Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy was scratched Sunday morning ahead of what would have been his 29th start of the season in the team's home finale, with veteran right-hander Chris Tillman starting instead.
The team announced that Bundy had a left hamstring strain, assuaging some immediate concern that the absence could be arm-related. But after the game, manager Buck Showalter openly acknowledged the convenience of not sending him out to push past the 170-inning mark in his first full season as a starter — and how tempting it was to declare Bundy's season finished.
"I know there's probably some people trying to read something into it," Showalter said after the 9-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. "I had some apprehension, quite frankly, about pitching him today. I was going to pitch him five innings only. In fact, [pitching coach Roger McDowell] and I tossed and turned on it the last few days, especially after we got eliminated last night. I've got to tell you, in a way it was a blessing.
"It's not embarrassing. He really cramped up and strained it. He slipped in his preparation, the things pitchers do warming up. They start at about 11:30, 12 [p.m.], going through some things. They do every time. It knotted up on him, kind of spasmed up on him. It actually kind of worked out well, because I really wanted to get Chris out there for another start.
Bundy, the team's prized young starter, has been getting extra rest throughout the second half in an effort to preserve his arm and get him through the season healthy. What was a 160-inning cap in spring has been stretched slightly, and Showalter said he was right on schedule for possibly being able to pitch in the playoffs had the Orioles not officially been eliminated from contention Saturday.
"I'll tell you, he's very close to where I was willing to take him to be ready to pitch in the playoffs," he said. "I can show you the charts that we had mapped out since spring, and he's right on the button. That's why today was a little bit of a stretch. But he really wanted to pitch and we were going to really watch him. I've got to tell you, there was a part of me that breathed a little sigh of relief when he didn't pitch today, to be frank with you."
“I’d be surprised if he pitches again, but I’d never say never,” Showalter added.
Tillman hadn't started since Aug. 28, and last appeared Sept. 18 in a three-inning relief stint during which he allowed a run on four hits against the New York Yankees.
Given his history of arm health, there was immediate concern over Bundy when an absence like this crops up. After shooting to the majors in his first professional season in 2012, Bundy began three years of arm problems that included Tommy John elbow reconstruction and calcification in his shoulder that limited him to 63 1/3 innings from 2013 to 2015.
He worked his way back on the major league roster in 2016, working as a reliever in the first half and starting in the second half, ending the year with a 4.02 ERA. This season, he's 13-9 with a team-best 4.24 ERA.
Earlier this week, Showalter said one of the things Bundy had taken from this year was how to manage his body over the course of six months of starting. If he doesn't pitch again, he'll have had a 60-inning increase from last year's 109 2/3.