St. Petersburg, Fla. — Before his best starter took the mound Saturday at Tropicana Field, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Dylan Bundy would be subject to the "eyeball test" before the team finalized any possible plans to give him some extra rest in the next few weeks.
There was plenty to like about what Showalter saw Saturday, as seven sturdy innings from Bundy helped the Orioles to an 8-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays and held an opponent below five runs for the first time since June 2.
The version of Bundy that did that is one that has proven tough enough mentally to pitch well through some of the team's problems and remain its most reliable starter all year, even if he's the youngest.
That makes him all the more valuable when he's at his best, which makes the Orioles' plan for keeping him healthy all the more important.
"That's an example of why we think so much of him makeup-wise," Showalter said. "He gives up that three-spot and just goes on about his business and doesn't implode and gets us deep in the game."
"He goes out there every outing, even when he doesn't have his best stuff, he's going to give you all he's got that day," catcher Welington Castillo said. "He's going to be competing, he's going to be trying to attack the strike zone even when he doesn't have his best stuff. That's not a problem for him. He made good pitches today and he gave us a chance to win."
The Orioles, of course, want those down days for Bundy to come less frequently. That would be the end game of keeping Bundy fresh down the stretch, especially in his first full season as a starter.
On Saturday, in his 16th start of the season, Bundy's fastball maxed out at 95 mph and remained steady at 92-93 mph all through the game. That's a departure from some previous starts, including his last one, when he dipped into the high 80s by the time it was over.
There's more to arm health than fastball velocity, but Bundy said he feels good about where he is physically.
"Physically, I'm great," he said. "I think that's 16 starts and last year, I made 14. I think that everybody saw that I was a little tired last year after the 12 or so. I feel great this year. Sixteen starts in, and I'm feeling stronger than I did after the first start of the year, so I feel good about it."
It's hard to compare this year with last year for Bundy, and even harder to compare what he is doing to any precedent. Entering last season, he'd pitched 63 1/3 total innings since the end of 2012 because of elbow and shoulder injuries, and began last season in the major league bullpen because he was out of minor league options. He extended himself to be able to handle a starter's workload and joined the rotation by the All-Star break, posting a 4.52 ERA in the second half.
But he pitched 109 2/3 innings all of last season. Saturday's outing brought him to 99 this season, and even if the Orioles give him extra days going forward, he's liable to hit last year's total by the All-Star break.
Earlier this week, Showalter laid out a hypothetical plan where Bundy would be bumped to the back of the rotation after Monday's day off, which could put him in line for just two more starts before the break. Coming out of it, he could get some extra rest, too.
Showalter has often said that science about limiting innings is mostly bunk, in his opinion. It all depends on what the manager saw in him Saturday, and what he wants to see from him going forward.
"It's not a physical thing or whatever," Showalter explained pregame. "We've got something set up all the way through the fifth starter, post-All-Star break. It could be adjusted depending on what we see tonight. I talk to Dylan after every start just about. We'll continue to do that. But we'll see. We've got a plan. We've actually considered that with not just Dylan, either."