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Orioles

Orioles' Dylan Bundy finding most success in bullpen on a starter's schedule

Buck Showalter won't have the luxury all the time, and he realizes he's somewhat lucky to have been able to do it this often this early in the season: The Orioles manager has been able to give right-handed reliever Dylan Bundy at least four days of rest before each of his past three appearances.

Bundy — the 2011 Orioles first-round draft pick working out of the bullpen this season because he's out of minor league options after three injury-plagued seasons — has pitched his best over that stretch, throwing a combined 6 1/3 scoreless innings and allowing just three hits.

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That includes Bundy's finest outing this season, retiring all nine batters he faced including three by strikeout in three scoreless innings in the Orioles' 4-3 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday night at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

It's an unconventional way to use a reliever — basically pitching him on the same rest as a starting pitcher — but that's a routine Bundy knows well.

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"I've been a starter for pretty much my whole career, so it makes sense why I'm a little more crisp on four days' rest, but I'm still getting used to this whole bullpen role, and it doesn't happen overnight," Bundy said Tuesday. "So it's not like I'm going to be good on back-to-back outings because I've never done it but maybe twice in my career.

"I think it's just going to take time, and maybe at the end of the year I can go two or three innings and then two days off and then go two or three innings. I don't know what the plan is or whether it's by design. Maybe it's just the way it worked out the past couple times. I'm just kind of adjusting to whatever happens."

There's no doubt the Orioles see Bundy as a future starter. But because the 23-year-old pitched in just 17 minor league games since undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction in 2013, he has to build his innings count in the bullpen, and he has to do it at the major league level because he's out of minor league options.

"I was on the elevator on the road with him one time," Showalter said of Bundy. "And it hit me listening to him talk, the respect he has for this level. But he's not intimidated by it. He's very slowly getting into this mentality of [knowing], 'I can do this, but I've got to do certain things.'

"It's encouraging for me that when we get to that four to five days when he doesn't pitch, that next outing has been [good]. I think it bodes well for the future. I told you, there's three things going on with him this year. I want to keep him healthy throughout the year and put that behind him, so to speak. I want him to get to a certain number of innings and have some multiple-inning outings and set him up to be a potential guy for us next year and who knows? Maybe in September."

Showalter is still holding the door open for Bundy to get a start at some point this season. He said Bundy could have filled the Orioles' open starting spot Wednesday had he not pitched Monday, but he likely wouldn't have pitched more than three innings. Ultimately, the Orioles want to get Bundy — who has thrown 30 innings this season — in the 60- to 75-inning range to consider him a starting option next spring.

Since he hasn't pitched much over the past three years, the Orioles have been careful in giving Bundy adequate rest. He has pitched on back-to-back days just once, and out of his 19 appearances, just two have come on fewer than two days' rest.

For now, Showalter hopes to give Bundy four days between outings as often as possible. The results are there. Bundy is 1-0 with a 1.17 ERA in three outings on four days' rest this season, holding opposing hitters to a .154 average (4-for-26) with six strikeouts and one walk. When Bundy pitches with fewer than four days' rest, that average balloons to .377.

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"Even if I got one day off or two days off and I throw an inning or two, I feel fine," Bundy said. "It's just sometimes I don't have that extra little bit of life people say on the ball, or I don't have the best command on after two days or one day or something like that."

Before Bundy's past three appearances, he saw his ERA balloon from 2.02 to 4.94 over a six-appearance span that included varying days of rest between one and three. But Showalter has now found a formula he likes by giving Bundy four days of rest, even though he realizes he won't be able to sustain that routine given the fact that Bundy is a valuable multi-inning bullpen arm.

"I can't go four days all the time," Showalter said. "You can't in the American League. As you've seen, we haven't been able to do it, only after two stints. ... That was a big outing for us last night, even though we weren't able to win."

eencina@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EddieInTheYard


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