The Orioles intend to proceed through the regular season's final four weeks with a five-man rotation — the odd man out being struggling right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez — while still using days off to give right-hander Dylan Bundy additional rest.
So while attempting to ensure the health of Bundy, the Orioles' most coveted young arm for the immediate and long-term future, the club might have given Jiménez — who is in the final weeks of a four-year, $50 million deal signed before the 2014 season that still stands as the more lucrative deal the club has given a free-agent starting pitcher — his final start in an Orioles uniform.
Jiménez will remain in the bullpen for the time being. He's been available in relief the previous two games heading into Tuesday night's matchup against the New York Yankees, but didn't pitch either day.
Hardy initially went on the disabled list with a broken bone in his right wrist but is also dealing with arm soreness that prompted a cortisone injection in his elbow last week.
The Orioles have had six starting rotation options since acquiring right-hander Jeremy Hellickson before the nonwaiver trade deadline but have still posted a collective 4.82 ERA since Aug. 1, which ranks 20th in the major leagues.
Despite that number, three Orioles starters have ERAs under 4.00 since Aug. 1: Bundy (2.00), left-hander Wade Miley (2.60) and Kevin Gausman (3.48). But Hellickson has struggled since his arrival, posting a 6.55 ERA. Jiménez's ERA over that span is 8.22, while right-hander Chris Tillman has a 9.92 ERA in four starts since Aug. 1, not counting a pair of scoreless relief outings in early August.
Jiménez lasted just 2 2/3 innings in his most recent outing, last Wednesday against the Seattle Mariners, allowing six runs on six hits. He hasn't been able to get an out in the sixth inning in any of his past three starts, compiling a 12.75 ERA over that stretch, allowing five or more earned runs in each outing.
Jiménez has a 7.20 ERA in nine starts in the second half of the season, even though he had a 2.63 ERA over four games from July 26 to Aug. 11. That success came while Jiménez pitched mostly on regular rest, a routine he's said he's more comfortable with. His most recent start came on seven days' rest.
Jiménez has been in the bullpen the previous two games, and before rosters expanded Sept. 1, two starters — Miley and Tillman — skipped their between-starts workday before the game and were available as potential relievers, but Jiménez figures to remain in the bullpen.
Jiménez, 33, has been sent to the bullpen before — including earlier this year — and in the past he's used the opportunity to regain his spot in the rotation. But given the fact that expanded rosters have allowed the Orioles to stock an 11-man bullpen and that Jiménez wasn't among the 10 relievers used in the past two games, it seems he won't get many opportunities to prove himself.
The Orioles have yet to announce their rotation beyond Wednesday's series finale against the Yankees, but the plan is to move Bundy's next start to Tuesday in Toronto, five days after Thursday's day off. That would give Bundy seven days off between starts.
Bundy, 24, lasted just two batters into the fifth inning — tied for his shortest start of the season — in his most recent start in Monday's 7-4 loss to the Yankees, allowing five runs on five hits — including two homers — and four walks. That outing was six days after Bundy threw a career-high 116 pitches in one-hitting the Mariners on Aug. 29. After Monday's game, manager Buck Showalter and Bundy scoffed at the notion that fatigue played a role in Bundy's struggles.
Bundy has benefited from the Orioles giving him extra rest. He's pitched 159 1/3 innings in his first full season as a major league starter, which is 50 1/3 more than his total last year as he spent the season's first half as a reliever. In three second-half starts with six or more days' rest, Bundy has a 1.71 ERA, compared with a 5.04 mark with four or five days off.
Wells earns organizational honors
Alex Wells, who had exemplary command this season at Low-A Delmarva, was named the organization's Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year on Tuesday.
Wells had a 2.38 ERA this season pitching for the Shorebirds, striking out 113 batters and walking just 10 over 140 innings, including none in his final 68 innings. His 0.91 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) was the lowest of any minor league pitcher with 20 or more starts.
"I try to have as much control as I can, commanding both parts of the plate," said Wells, who was in Baltimore on Tuesday to accept his award. "I feel like that's the way I'm going to be known as a pitcher, commanding the ball. I'm not going to be able to blow guys away unless I get a jump in [velocity], so having that command is going to help me succeed."
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said that command for Wells — who was signed in 2015 out of Australia — is a result of other intangibles.
"If pitching is about throwing strikes, Alex knows about throwing strikes, because he threw more strikes than anyone else in our organization this year," Duquette said. "He put it all together. He's got a good curveball to go along with that, good intelligence, excellent instincts."
Orioles still waiting on Hardy
The Orioles did not activate shortstop J.J. Hardy from the disabled list Tuesday.
Showalter, who had expected the activation to come Tuesday, now expects it no later than Friday.
"Getting a little better," Showalter said. "Looks like we're going to wait for the elbow to get a little better with swinging the bat for the time being. Anxious to get him back. One, just getting J.J. Hardy back is big for our club, just having that option on the bench because we really don't have a whole lot right now, [versatility] speaking."
Around the horn:
Right-handers Tyler Wilson and Logan Verrett both cleared waivers and received outright assignments to Triple-A Norfolk. … First baseman Chris Davis was named the Orioles' nominee for the this year's Roberto Clemente award, which annually recognizes "the player who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field." The winner of the award will be announced on Wednesday on the annual Roberto Clemente Day.