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Orioles eager to see how Dylan Bundy's bullpen role evolves as season progresses

Orioles eager to see how Dylan Bundy's bullpen role evolves as season progresses.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter can acknowledge it now. One of his biggest fears going into spring training was if right-hander Dylan Bundy was finally healthy but wouldn't be able to get hitters out, especially since the club was forced to carry him on the 25-man roster heading into the season because he is out of minor league options.

"The worst-case scenario for us this spring was that he was healthy and there wasn’t anything really coming out and he wasn’t getting anyone out," Showalter said Monday. "That didn’t happen. So that was very quietly one of the best things to happen in Sarasota. Now we’ll go to another part of the process for Dylan."

Bundy, who entered the spring having made 17 minor league appearances since Tommy John elbow reconstruction in 2013, made his first Opening Day roster after a strong spring training. Bundy posted a 3.65 ERA in 12 1/3 Grapefruit League innings, holding opposing hitters to a .229 average with eight strikeouts and two walks.

"If you went just by spring training and didn’t know he was out of options and this and that and whatever, he would have made your club," Showalter said. "That was one of the better performances from start to finish of the guys we had in Sarasota. We’ll see if it continues."

But more important than the numbers Bundy posted was the different scenarios the Orioles were able to place him in this spring. He worked more than one inning four times, including three two-inning stints. He worked twice in three days and was brought in once to get out of a bases-loaded jam.

Pitching coach Dave Wallace said Sunday that the team won’t hesitate to put Bundy in those situations in the regular season, and could possibly even work back-to-back days.

“We’re not going to extend him a whole lot,” Wallace said. “He’s not going to go out there and pitch six or seven innings on April 10, but I think as the season evolves and as he comes through when we see his recovery, to me it’s going to be huge because major league innings are far different than spring training innings. So that’s one of the things we’re going to keep an eye on.”

Bundy's role in the bullpen opening the season is unclear. He has been placed in several situations, but his place among the relievers should evolve over time. The Orioles will still handle him with care, paying special attention to his recovery on days after he pitches.

“We want to make sure he’s on track and OK,” Wallace said. “The good thing is the way Buck handles the bullpen and the pitchers. We want to get into the season and see what it brings. That’s one of the reasons we gave him different scenarios during the spring. However, we took our time doing it just because of a lot of the things physical that he’s been through. But my gosh, he’s come through with flying colors. It’s nice to have that guy to look forward to and hope and wish, but let’s kind of hold back a little bit and hold the reins and see what we have.”

But ultimately, the goal is to have the once-heralded prospect get to the point where he is productive while building his innings count so that he can be considered a starting rotation option. Showalter said earlier this spring that could be a consideration in the second half of this season, but it's the end goal for 2017. 

"I’m hoping that next year that this is all behind him, he’s healthy and he’s in our rotation," Showalter said. "That’s what we’re hoping. Of course, maybe he becomes like [closer] Zach [Britton] and we say, ‘Jeech, do we really want to move him?’ I don’t know, but we will find out. I know he’s excited in his own way. It’s kind of funny to think he’s kind of under the radar here when you look at the background. I think he’s kind of prospering under that environment, too, but he earned [it]."

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