A picture of the Orioles' plans to give right-hander Dylan Bundy added rest in the coming weeks became clearer Tuesday, but it was accompanied by a wrinkle.
Ideally, the club — looking to take advantage of the All-Star break and the opportunity to provide Bundy with rest on both sides of it — would like to give their top starting pitcher this season six days of rest before his next start, which would lead to his starting Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays at Camden Yards.
But Bundy will travel from Toronto — where the Orioles opened a key three-game division series against Blue Jays on Tuesday night — back to Baltimore on Thursday, just in case he is needed to pitch in Friday night's series opener against the Rays. Right-hander Chris Tillman is scheduled to start that game, but he might have to leave the team for the birth of his first child.
That doesn't much alter the Orioles' blueprint to give the 24-year-old Bundy, who has been the team's most consistent starter, a breather to pace out his increasing inning total.
"I've got a start coming up," Bundy said before the series opener Tuesday night in Toronto. "We've got some different things going on, too, so it could be one day this weekend, could be a different day. We'll see when it is, but everyone is good to go with it. I feel fine. I feel stronger than I did during the beginning of the year and stronger than I did last year, so I'm ready to go whenever."
Bundy has pitched 99 innings this season, steadily approaching his 109 2/3-inning total of last season, when he pitched out of the bullpen in the first half before being inserted into the starting rotation after the break.
He is on pace for 34 starts and 211 innings, but the Orioles have had a plan mapped out since the beginning of the year to take advantage of the days around the break to help give Bundy added rest so he's strong throughout the season.
"I know it needs to me done, yeah, absolutely, because it's all about me pitching all the way to the end of the season and not getting shut down early for any reason at all," Bundy said. "I'd rather pitch in October, deep into October if I can, and that's why you have to look at things early in the year to plan for later on in the year. You can't all of a sudden come up with a plan at the end of the year. I think that's what we're doing and just trying to take care of it while we're ahead of it right now."
The Orioles' meticulous care for Bundy's physical well-being is nothing new, especially given the hurdles he's overcome — Tommy John elbow reconstruction and other arm-related ailments that held him back for most of three seasons before last year — but Bundy's reliability as the emerging ace of a floundering rotation makes for a complicated situation.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has said often that traditional innings increases for young pitchers aren't reliable ways to keep them healthy, but also said he talks to Bundy constantly about how he feels. Still, he said he's mapped out Bundy's schedule through mid-September and has an idea in mind of where he'd like to see Bundy's inning total in September so that he doesn't have to be shut down.
"We've looked at it," Showalter said. "If he averages 'X' amount of innings, how many innings he'd have and how many starts he'd have. We've got it mapped out and kind of see where we are in September."
Said Bundy: "Yeah, things change. It could change two weeks from now, you never know. But we've got a plan for the next two or three weeks going forward and we're going to stick to it."
Whether Bundy pitches Friday or Saturday, Monday's day off this week allowed him to get added rest, and holds him to two starts before the All-Star break in the second full week of July. The Orioles would likely open the second half of the season by pushing Bundy to the end of the team's rotation, which would give him 11 or 12 days off between his final start of the first half and his first outing of the second half.
Bundy went into his workday Tuesday intending to throw a few more pitches than usual, realizing he might start either Friday or Saturday.
"I think I'm at 98, 99 or 100 innings right now," Bundy said. "I know what I threw last year. I know that we have a plan and it can change a little bit here and there. But we have a pretty decent plan and grasp on it. Communication is there, and it's open. I think we have a good plan, and it is all about my body and the way it is recovering. That is kind of the plan going forward, and so far it's been great."
Bundy has 12 quality starts in his 16 outings this season, by far the most on the club, while going 9-7 with a 3.73 ERA.
Showalter said Bundy isn't the only starter the team is looking to keep fresh for the second half. He said the Orioles are also projecting a path for struggling right-hander Kevin Gausman that would give him some additional rest around the break.
"I think all of it is important. He gives me the same answer every time. Today I asked him, 'How'd the workday go?' and it's the same response, "Great, why do you ask?"… It's fine, but you want to keep it fine, too. But we've done that with all of our guys. In fact, we're looking at Gausman some, too, along the same lines."
Gausman recorded his first scoreless outing of the season in Tuesday's series opener in Toronto while pitching on five days rest, holding the Blue Jays scoreless over 5 1/3 innings.