In Buck Showalter's eyes, the only way to find out whether a young pitcher can handle a tight situation is to put him right in the fire, and that's what he did with rookie right-hander Dylan Bundy on Thursday night.
In some ways, the Orioles manager had little choice. Showalter wasn't going to use right-hander Brad Brach, who closed out the Orioles' previous game with 1 2/3 innings. Right-hander Mychal Givens was available for just one inning, and Showalter had to save some bullpen ammunition in case the game went to extra innings.
So the Orioles' eventual 6-5 comeback win over the Toronto Blue Jays was Bundy's to win, or lose. Showalter turned to Bundy with one on and two outs in the sixth inning with the Orioles trailing, 5-4.
After walking Jose Bautista, the first batter he faced, Bundy bore down against reigning American League MVP Josh Donaldson, winning a 10-pitch battle – feeding Donaldson a diet of 96-97 mph fastballs – before getting a called strike three on 96-mph heat.
In the following inning, Bundy created his own jam, hitting Edwin Encarnacion with a pitch and allowing a bunt single to Michael Saunders. But Bundy struck out Justin Smoak on five pitches and then got Russell Martin to hit into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Asked which situation was more impressive, Showalter said, "I think all of the above."
"When you know there's such a fine line there, the only way you find out if young guys can graduate is giving them the opportunity," Showalter said. "… I didn't want to blow up the long guy for tomorrow. You're starting a road trip and you want to keep your bullpen intact. Dylan was holding his stuff pretty well, and they hadn't seen him this year. We talked about it in advance meeting. There are times when a guy is rested and the other team hadn't seen him yet, he might get a little ambush the first time around."
Bundy earned the win after throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings – he allowed just one hit and struck out three – handing the game over to closer Zach Britton in the nine. Britton converted his 19th save in 19 opportunities.
And Bundy had struggled of late. He allowed runs in five of his six previous outings, pitching to an 8.71 ERA after allowing 10 runs over 10 1/3 innings.
But the injury to setup man Darren O'Day, who is on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, means more high-leverage innings for the rest of the relief arms, including Bundy.
Thursday's outing was an example of that. Showalter needed Bundy to come through, and he did.