It's pretty amazing, actually.
The Orioles got off to a strong start during their opening home stand. They won four of five games against two division rivals and did it while reminding everyone that the starting rotation is still a major trouble spot.
Let's take that a step further. The Orioles also averaged four runs per game over that period and managed to be the last team in baseball to lose a game in spite of getting only one quality start. What are the odds?
Dylan Bundy was masterful in his 2017 debut last Wednesday, but there was something ragged about each of the other four efforts.
So what does that tell us about the rotation going forward? Not a whole lot, because it's so early and so much depends on the healthy return of injured ace Chris Tillman. But it's certainly fair to wonder if the club did enough to insulate itself against a worst-case scenario after Tillman alerted them to his shoulder relapse in December.
The Orioles are trying to tiptoe through April with an eight-man bullpen, taking advantage of four early off days to buy some time while Tillman progresses toward a possible return in May. They swept the opening two-game series against the Blue Jays and scored a pair of comeback victories over the Yankees, but required 16 2/3 relief innings during those first four games, which came back to haunt them Sunday.
Everybody knew going in they would need fast starts from both Bundy and Kevin Gausman to overcome the absence of Tillman. Everyone also knew that veteran pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley were walk-year wild cards, at least one of them needing to have a successful contract drive to help stabilize the rotation.
It's too early to say that won't happen, but nothing happened the first time through the rotation to indicate that it will.
Jimenez needed 94 pitches to get 13 outs in his 2017 debut, which bore no resemblance to his first start exactly one year earlier, when he began the season with an outstanding seven-inning performance. The only takeaway from that is that you never know exactly what you're going to get from him in any given game, and the fact that he is pitching for his next contract probably isn't going to change that.
Miley had a no-hitter going halfway through his first start Sunday and gave up just one hit over five shutout innings, but he walked seven batters and — like Jimenez — ran up a huge pitch count to assure that the O's would need four more innings from an already overworked bullpen.
Though it's hard to say that he didn't pitch well, it's just as hard to figure out what to make of that first outing.
Since Miley is known as a control pitcher, the seven walks were likely a first-start anomaly. He had just come off the disabled list and had pitched only a simulated game over the previous 12 days, so he didn't figure to have perfect command.
Instead, he was what pitching coaches call "effectively wild," so it doesn't necessarily follow that when he starts locating his fastball consistently he'll keep piling up scoreless innings. It should, however, allow him to get a lot deeper into the game the next time he throws 100 pitches.
The Orioles are confident that Gausman will settle into a good rhythm and they have every right to be. He pitched much better than his 9-12 record last year and might have won 15 games with a little more luck and adequate offensive support.
But in his first two starts — both of which the Orioles won — he struggled with his command, ran up large pitch counts and ended up with no-decisions. There comes a time when winning pitchers are supposed to win and, for Gausman, it's about that time. He allowed 20 base runners in 10 innings last week, which makes him a question going forward instead of an answer.
The Orioles don't need any more of those, especially with Triple-A pitcher Jayson Aquino likely to fill the hole in the starting rotation that comes up Saturday in Toronto.
Buck Showalter is fond of saying that his team will go as far as its starting pitching will take it, which is not particularly reassuring at the moment.