Even with a stronger rationale than years past arming their decision, the Orioles' move to a six-man rotation over the final month-plus creates a host of new complications with a group of starting pitchers for whom nothing has been simple this season.
It's a challenge for the routine-obsessed pitchers whose schedules are affected, and a headache for the coaching staff that balances keeping them informed with not prematurely misinforming them.
But as long as the team as a whole benefits, there's somewhere between a begrudging acceptance and a weary understanding of the process as it pertains to life in a six-man rotation.
"It kind of messes you up a little bit, you know, but at the same time, this time of year, an extra day of rest is good," Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman said. "You take them when you can get them, but obviously, if we make a run at this thing, it's probably going to be because our starters really stepped up.
"Maybe giving us that extra day of rest makes us feel a little bit fresher. Maybe that's his thinking behind it. I'm fine with it, and we're kind of used to it. It seems like every year this happens at the end of the year."
Indeed, this is getting to be a regular thing for the Orioles. Two years ago, they mixed in Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson into the rotation in September. Last year, the addition of left-hander Wade Miley made six in August and September.
This year, with the goal being to get Dylan Bundy extra rest late in his first full year as a starter, and with the addition of Jeremy Hellickson to the rotation in late July, manager Buck Showalter has been glad to use six starters and spread things out a bit over the past few weeks.
Experience has taught both the coaches and players involved that communication is key. If the schedule won't be as regular as a pitcher might want it, the protection of a young pitcher and the potential for improved results all around make it all plausible.
"I think talking to them, there's one or two who would probably rather be on a five, but they understand what we're trying to do and how it makes us better and makes them better and keeps people healthy," Showalter said.
"I can give it to you two ways," said Chris Tillman, the rotation's elder statesman. "As a player, communication is the most important thing. I think it's miserable not knowing when you're going to pitch — it's one of the worst feelings. And not just me, that goes for everybody. But at the same time, on their end of it, it's hard because you have to put all the options out there and you have to keep it open. You can't commit to something you're not 100 percent sure of. I see both sides of it, but as a player, I'd rather know and be able to get ready for that start as opposed to not knowing. But I get both sides."
A buffer for Bundy
Personal preferences aside, one thing that seems to be agreed upon among the Orioles starters is that anything that can be done to lighten the load on Bundy's prized, surgically-repaired right arm is worth it.
Bundy was meant to only throw 160 innings this year, but his target number is now around 180, a major jump from last season's 109 2/3 innings. He's at 155 1/3 innings now, and coming off the best start of his major league career — a complete-game, one-hit shutout on Tuesday.
"I'd rather protect him, and I'd rather pitch on two days' rest than have him go any longer than he should," Tillman said. "Because I've been there, and I understand where he's been. I'd rather be safe than sorry. I completely agree with that."
Miley sees a reason to keep Gausman, who has already made 29 starts, in that same category.
"As good as those two are, you want to keep them in there, but keep them fresh without abusing them, so it makes sense," Miley said. "I guess the older guys can kind of get the benefit of the rest as well by giving them rest."
Bundy, 24, is clearly benefiting from it. His 3.22 ERA on extra rest is far superior to his 4.68 mark on regular four days' rest, and there's some evidence things are better for the rest of the rotation, too.
After each of the Orioles' three strong starting pitching performances last weekend in Boston, and generally after any good outing from a starter, Showalter points out the extra rest they've had, as if to justify the six-man rotation.
"It's very obvious that our guys respond this time of year, have responded very well to the extra rest," Showalter said. "And you don't, I've found you don't do it in April, May, June because guys have to get in a pattern or a routine."
Bundy is the team's top pitcher, but isn't the only one benefiting from more time between starts this time of year. Hellickson, too, is far better on extra rest this season, both with the Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies, as are Ubaldo Jiménez and Gausman. Tillman has fared much worse on it, while it's pretty much even for Miley.
Over the course of their careers, there's little difference for any of them. Miley is a touch better on four days' rest, and Hellickson a bit better on at least five days'.
But when Showalter looks at the team as a whole, it's clear why he believes there's a difference. Orioles starters have a 6.03 ERA on four days' rest this year, and though that also coincided with the first half of the season when almost all of their starters badly struggled, it's at 4.86 when the starter has five or more days off.
Ask around the Orioles clubhouse, and the physical benefits are mixed.
"I don't necessarily think I feel better physically," Miley said. "I think this late in the year, you're always kind of grinding your way through it. I take enough Advil to kind of feel the same every time I pitch."
Hellickson said longer layoffs, like the six days he had before his strong start on Aug. 25 in Boston, are easier to feel the benefits from than just one extra day. But every day is valuable come September in his mind.
A mixed bag
It doesn't work for everyone, though. Jiménez, for one, needs the regular routine and short intervals between his outings and bullpen days to keep his mechanics.
"People don't understand how hard it is to go out there when you have extra days," Jiménez said. "As starting pitchers, we need to throw every five days or you get thrown off a little bit, you have to try a little bit harder to stay consistent."
Tillman, too, said he prefers a four-day schedule, and that last season, he went through his career stats with former pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti to examine his results. His regular-rest starts, he said, were much better.
Showalter acknowledged that Miley wants to pitch "every day," though the laid-back Miley says all he does is "come around here and goof off, and when they tell me to pitch, I go pitch."
Making things work for the whole group requires communication. That's one thing Yovani Gallardo took issue with last year in a September when he made just four starts.
"For me last year, when I was over there, it was just one of those things that's difficult," Gallardo said this past week at Camden Yards, where his Seattle Mariners were swept. "I would get pushed back a couple days or skipped, and it's one of those things where it's difficult to get in that routine. ... You're so in-tune to your routine that you don't know what to do with all that extra time."
Gallardo often claimed that he didn't know when he was pitching, which can be a problem with six starters and a manager so committed to finding the best matchup that even a six-man rotation might not stay in order.
That's why Showalter relies on pitching coach Roger McDowell and bullpen coach Alan Mills to keep everyone up to speed on the rotation. But accuracy, he said, is just as important as quickly relaying the information.
"It takes Roger," Showalter said. "Roger handles a lot of it now and I try to get ahead of what their questions may be. I may not get all of them, but I certainly try to get my head around it, put myself in their brain and see what they're thinking, what they would be thinking. Sometimes, I'm surprised by it. But you have to ask."
"Communication is huge," Gausman said. "I think that's one thing we've had a lot of, especially this year. Once we come to the field, we know the first time we see Roger, he's going to let us know, or Millsy. They're going to let us know, 'Hey, you're not throwing a bullpen today, you're throwing one tomorrow.' It's nice to have that open-door policy to kind of be able to figure those things out."
The Orioles' starters have shifted from their normal five-man rotation to a six-man rotation, and while manager Buck Showalter often touts the benefits of rest this time of year for his pitchers, the statistics don't always show that out. Here's how the Orioles starters have fared on four days' rest and extended rest this year and throughout their careers.
Player; four days' rest; five or more days' rest
Dylan Bundy, 2017; 13 starts, 4.68 ERA, 1.94 K/BB; 12 starts, 3.22 ERA, 5.5 K/BB
Dylan Bundy, career; 21 starts, 4.83 ERA, 2.26 K/BB; 18 starts, 3.36 ERA, 3.62 K/BB
Kevin Gausman, 2017; 19 starts, 5.36 ERA, 2.06 K/BB; 10 starts, 3.79 ERA, 3.06 K/BB
Kevin Gausman, career; 60 starts, 4.22 ERA, 2.87 K/BB; 41 starts, 4.18 ERA, 2.96 K/BB
Jeremy Hellickson, 2017; 11 starts, 7.25 ERA, 1.94 K/BB; 15 starts, 3.77 ERA, 2.60 K/BB
Jeremy Hellickson, career; 86 starts, 4.23 ERA, 2.49 K/BB; 107 starts, 3.89 ERA, 2.43 K/BB
Ubaldo Jiménez, 2017; 12 starts, 9.11 ERA, 1.83 K/BB; 10 starts, 5.40 ERA, 2.14 K/BB
Ubaldo Jiménez, career; 178 starts, 4.22 ERA, 2.06 K/BB; 134 starts, 4.39 ERA, 1.94 K/BB
Wade Miley, 2017; 17 starts, 5.04 ERA, 1.66 K/BB; 10 starts, 4.91 ERA, 1.40 K/BB
Wade Miley, career; 96 starts, 4.13 ERA, 2.21 K/BB; 94 starts, 4.48 ERA, 2.47 K/BB
Chris Tillman, 2017; 7 starts, 6.69 ERA, 1.93 K/BB; 9 starts, 9.73 ERA, 1.04 K/BB
Chris Tillman, career; 105 starts, 4.51 ERA, 2.10 K/BB; 89 starts, 4.29 ERA, 1.94 K/BB