A question that for most of this year has been facetious becomes less and less so as the date in question draws near: How are the Orioles going to get to the end of this season?
After Monday night’s 6-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park — during which their only remaining starter from the Opening Day rotation, Dylan Bundy, threw 90 pitches in three laborious innings and further stretched a pitching staff that despite roster expansion can barely cover the required innings on a given day — all that’s assured is that these last six games will not be comfortable ones. Bundy took that weight on and saw it overcome him.
“It’s not surprising, just frustrating for him,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I think he almost wanted it too much.
“That’s why he got so frustrated with the balls and strikes, too,” Showalter added, calling the umpiring “one-sided.”
Bundy could have provided a small consolation had he delivered the game to the bullpen deeper into the game. But after striking out two in a 25-pitch first inning, he allowed four runs on five hits — including a home run by American League Most Valuable Player candidate Mookie Betts — in the second inning. A pair of two-out walks in a scoreless third inning extended his pitch count to the point that the Orioles (45-111) brought Donnie Hart in for the fourth.
Hart allowed four singles and a walk to the first five batters he faced, with two scoring, and provided only one inning before Sean Gilmartin was assigned the rest of the game. He allowed one hit in four shutout innings.
“That was really our two guys tonight,” Showalter said. “Could have pushed some people I didn’t want to push. Much like Dylan — Dylan wanted to keep pushing, but 90 pitches in three innings is just not good any time of the year. I know he’s frustrated with it. But Sean did a great job in that role.”
Gilmartin was plucked from consideration to start either Tuesday night’s or Wednesday night’s game, the former open as a consequence of the season-ending hamstring injury for Luis Ortiz and the latter open because Yefry Ramírez, brought back into the rotation only recently, needs a few extra days for a cut on his hand to heal. Instead, Jimmy Yacabonis will start Tuesday.
They have 19 pitchers on the active roster; seven of them — Alex Cobb (finger), Andrew Cashner (knee), Miguel Castro (knee), Josh Rogers (shut down), Evan Phillips (shut down), Ortiz and Ramírez — are dealing with injuries or otherwise unavailable. That gives them the numbers of a pre-roster expansion pitching staff with a minor league call-up quality to it. September baseball is a manager’s nightmare, but this is a level unto itself.
Neither Bundy nor veteran outfielder Adam Jones wanted to address the pitching shortage. Bundy said it’s his job to pitch when the time comes, and Jones referred the question to management.
“That’s a question you need to ask the people that are talking about the rebuild, not me,” Jones said.
Yet even as Showalter stood huddled in the visiting team’s dugout at Fenway Park before Monday’s game, inhaling the fumes from an industrial heater brought out to combat September’s first cold snap, he acknowledged that the Orioles’ pitching situation was so tenuous that he couldn’t count on a long outing from Bundy.
Considering that he was their Opening Day starter and appeared to have his latest malaise behind him with back-to-back quality starts, Showalter wouldn’t have been faulted for counting on Bundy for that.
Instead, Bundy (8-16) left with a 5.49 ERA and likely one start remaining— against the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros — with a chance to end his season on a good note. He’s already reached the meaningful 30-start milestone, but hasn’t finished terribly strong — he’s allowed a league-high 39 home runs. He relishes another shot — and the Orioles will need a good one to complete the minimum required 52 innings of pitching before everyone goes home.
“If I’ve got another start, I plan on making it,” Bundy said. “I’m just going to prepare like I am and throw my bullpen in between and finish the season with one more.”
Said Showalter: “I keep hearing this stuff about shutting this guy, shutting that guy down. Dylan wants no part of it. He feels as good as he’s felt all year, and part of pitching up here is pitching in September and pitching in October, playing the season. It’s part of it,”
On a night when the Orioles managed six singles — three by third baseman Renato Núñez — and scored only on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly by Jones, it wasn’t enough to prevent Boston from winning for the franchise-record 106th time.