Orioles face unique situation of developing Dylan Bundy at major league level

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SARASOTA, FLA. — Orioles manager Buck Showalter has seen a little bit of everything as he enters his 18th year managing in the major leagues, but said he has never had a situation quite like the one he currently faces with pitching prospect Dylan Bundy.

Bundy, the Orioles' first-round draft pick five years ago, enters spring training having exhausted all of his minor league options, so if he's healthy, the team must carry him on its 25-man active roster. But injuries have limited Bundy to just 17 minor league games over the past three seasons.


So the Orioles will attempt to carry the 23-year-old Bundy in the bullpen this season as he builds his inning count. The organization still believes he can become the front-line starter it hoped he would be when taking him fourth overall in the 2011 draft, but first he must pitch regularly again, and he must do so at the major league level.

"It's some uncharted territory," Showalter said. "I'll tell you, it's like a Rule 5 guy. You take him, they're going to pitch. He goes north, he's pitching, and the other team is going to tell us whether he's very good or not. The toughest thing for us will be if he's healthy and not effective. It's not good.


"I'll be frank with you. We're going to have to take it as it goes. Now, I just want to see him get on the mound, have a good look on his face. He's got that extra quarter inch. He's excited. I told him … 'The cup's half full. It's time to go. You've got all these things behind you. Look how much you realize how fleeting it all can be. Let's go.' He deserves some good things to happen to him."

Bundy hasn't pitched in a minor league game since May 21, his final start before shoulder soreness eventually led to him being diagnosed with a calcification in his right shoulder that ended his season. He returned for two appearances in the Arizona Fall League, but experienced forearm tightness and was shut down early as a precautionary measure.

"Every time you get hurt, you want to get back sooner and better, but you can't rush these things," Bundy said. "I've learned that over the past four, five years now."

This past season's injuries were just the latest chapter for Bundy, who has struggled to remain on the mound since being fast-tracked to the majors in 2012. He threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings as a September call-up that season, but he needed elbow ligament reconstruction (more commonly known at Tommy John surgery) in 2013. After returning from surgery in June 2014, Bundy made just nine starts at Short-A Aberdeen and High-A Frederick before a lat muscle strain ended that season.

Bundy arrives at camp this season without any physical restrictions. He threw off a half-mound at last month's minicamp in Sarasota and has been throwing full bullpen sessions. He will throw his first bullpen session of spring training Saturday.

"I can pretty much do whatever I need to," Bundy said Friday. "[I can] actually go out there and work on pitches and not have to worry about my arm and get out there and compete."

Bundy has logged just 63 1/3 minor league innings since Tommy John surgery, and that includes 22 innings at Double-A Bowie this past season. The Orioles have 30 pitchers in camp this spring, but Showalter said Bundy will get the innings he needs to be ready to pitch in the major league bullpen, whether it's in Grapefruit League games, "B" games or minor league camp games. Showalter indicated Bundy could receive multiple-inning outings.

"We will figure out ways for him to get him innings," Showalter said. "It depends how hard you want to work — I'm talking about us — and how innovative you want to be with it. We'll get the innings. Twin Lakes is a short distance for them to come over here and for us to go over there. We've got a minicamp up and running over there."


Out of Bundy's 17 minor league outings since Tommy John, he has gone four or more innings nine times, and just once in his eight 2015 starts at Bowie. But the Orioles would still like to get Bundy to a position where he might start. That likely won't come soon, but Showalter isn't ruling it out.

"You'd like to figure out a way to get him back into a starting pitcher mode," Showalter said. "That situation is not going to present itself initially, but who knows? The only thing you worry about is the lack of innings. You can't start a guy that's only going to throw 70 innings on a year. I think we're trying to take one step at a time where, 'OK, let's make sure he's healthy, and this is the way we like him, and if he's healthy, we can feel confident he can help us.'"

Showalter is known for thinking ahead, and said sending Bundy to winter ball next offseason could be an option to prepare him for a spot in the 2017 starting rotation. But the Orioles' main priority will be plotting Bundy's innings to ensure he remains healthy.

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"I will tell you that number is probably not attainable by him physically this year," Showalter said of the innings Bundy would need to start. "It could be at some other point in the season, but to start the year, knowing that X number of innings, you're going to have to slow down. It's a pretty proven, tried formula that you're asking for trouble if you do that. We'll see. I hope he has a great year, and we're all trying to figure out how far can we push him."

So now, Bundy will get adjusted to a bullpen role for the first time in his career. He will have the help of a veteran relief corps that will include All-Stars Zach Britton and Darren O'Day.

"For this year, I guess you can say I'm getting into that mentality right now," Bundy said. "As a bullpen guy, you never know when you're going to get in the game. You've got more adrenaline, you've got to be able to control the adrenaline. You've got to throw an off-speed pitch first pitch of the outing that you come out, just stuff like that."


Bundy must overcome several steps to meet his once-lofty potential, but the Orioles still have high hopes that he can fulfill the promise of being rated the second-best prospect in baseball heading into the 2013 season.

"I'm looking at it that he's going to pick up where he was a couple of years ago before all this happened and remind everybody why he was so well thought of," Showalter said. "All of a sudden, everybody will be going, how lucky we are to have an arm like that in the bullpen, and how are we going to figure out a way for him to start? That's where I'm hoping we get to."