Dylan Bundy's first major league start didn't look like much, but this appearance probably was deceiving.
Nobody wants to give up three home runs in 3 1/3 innings, but Bundy took the mound against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday in a difficult situation and did some things out there that should leave the Orioles and their fans feeling OK about his ability to fill a slot in the rotation during the second half of the season.
He prepared himself well and looked sharp in the first inning, despite that one 97-mile-per-hour fastball that Evan Longoria launched into the bleachers. He threw a couple of bad pitches that cost him dearly, but maintained his composure and had decent command.
Keep in mind that he was on a limited pitch count, which added to the degree of difficulty in his rotation debut. He was in a situation where his best-case scenario was to pitch economically enough to get through the fifth inning with maybe 75 pitches, and we all know that Orioles starting pitchers do that with the frequency of a lunar eclipse.
No doubt, he put some pressure on himself to challenge hitters early, and probably paid a price for that, but the fans ranting on Twitter that it was a Ubaldo-like outing obviously overlooked his terrific velocity and ability to locate some quality pitches. And, well, it might be a little too soon for comparisons of any kind.
Bundy's natural inclination to depend on his sizzling fastball is understandable at this early point in his career. Teammate Kevin Gausman continues to struggle with that issue and he has thrown 360 innings at the big-league level. Bundy came into Sunday's game with just 39 2/3 innings of big league experience and just a couple of innings before this season.
What exactly did everyone expect?
Based on his MASN postgame comments, manager Buck Showalter seemed satisfied with the performance, which would have looked a lot better if the Orioles' power-packed lineup had figured out a way to get a hit or two with runners in scoring position. The O's were 0-for-7 in those situations, which they'll attribute to a solid performance by Rays starter Jake Odorizzi and be half right.
When the first six hitters in one of baseball's best lineups strike out 13 times, there's only so much cap-tipping you can justify.
Here's what matters: Bundy built up a lot of confidence on the way to a 2-1 record and 3.08 ERA in 22 first-half relief appearances. Nothing that happened Sunday should shake that confidence as long as he is aware that the Orioles understand they are grooming him for a long career as a starting pitcher and this was the beginning of that process.
It's not entirely clear just how often he will slot into the rotation going forward. Showalter originally hinted at a very conservative innings limit this season – perhaps as few as 70. That might have evolved as Bundy began to display the velocity and arm strength that encouraged the Orioles to make him the fourth overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft.
Even if the club decides to hold him to, say, 100 innings this year, that would still leave enough for him to stretch out and make 10 to 12 starts.
The decision to move Bundy into the rotation was made out of necessity, so his near-term future might be impacted by whatever baseball operations chief Dan Duquette does before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. If the Orioles find a way to acquire a quality veteran starter – which appears to be a long shot at this point – Bundy might fall back into a spot starter/middle reliever role.
No matter how well Bundy pitches going forward, however, the Orioles would be making a mistake to gamble on him being the only answer to the depth problem in their starting rotation. They still do not know what they are going to get from veteran Yovani Gallardo and they can't be thinking Ubaldo Jimenez will suddenly morph into his 2013 second-half self.
What Bundy provides is a healthy wing and a prayer, but that's more than the Orioles had a week ago.