DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Outwardly, Dylan Bundy made it clear that he came to his second big league spring training with the goal of winning a starting rotation spot with the Orioles. But despite the tremendous amount of upside and talent the organization’s top prospects possesses, it quickly became clear that Bundy being sent to the minors was less a question of if than when.
With two weeks remaining in spring training and Orioles pitchers beginning to get stretched out for the regular season, Grapefruit League innings are suddenly becoming scarce.
And because of that squeeze, the Orioles optioned Bundy to Double-A Bowie on Saturday. He will report to the team’s Double-A camp at Twin Lakes Park and remain there as he prepares to begin the 2013 season with the Baysox.
“It’s time for him to get stretched out a little bit more and [the innings] aren’t here for him any more,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We want to go ahead and get that mentality, mindset, adjustment made as soon as possible.”
Before leaving for the Orioles’ Grapefruit League game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, Showalter called Bundy — the consensus top pitching prospect in the game — into his office at the team’s training facility in Sarasota to have a frank discussion about sending him down and where he needs to improve.
“We talked about a lot of things today,” Showalter said. “He’s in a really good frame of mind. He likes where he is. He’s had a good spring. It’s kind of fun talking to him about looking back what his impressions were last year and how he feels this year. He gets it. He’s going to be a good.”
The 20-year-old Bundy, the team’s first-round pick out of high school in 2011, was a September call-up last season, but the Orioles believe he still needs to refine his skills at the Double-A level.
“I still believe that Double-A is the proving ground,” Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. “All players need to show they can master their skills at a core level.”
The organization’s No. 2 prospect, right-hander Kevin Gausman, will remain in big league camp for at least one more outing. For Gausman, the No. 4 overall pick last year out of LSU, this is his first major league camp, so the Orioles would like to see him a little longer before deciding where he will be assigned.
“We’ve had two springs with Dylan,” Showalter said. “We’re pretty familiar with him and where he is, and obviously we haven’t had that much time with Gaus yet. We want to get a little more familiar with him. I think another outing and we’ll decide what’s best for him and the Orioles.”
The Orioles intend to pace both Bundy and Gausman — who reached Bowie in an abbreviated 18-inning first pro season — so that they could help the big league club late this season. When Bundy was called up to the Orioles last September, he allowed one hit in 1 2/3 scoreless relief innings.
Bundy expressed some frustration this spring. He battled with his control, and he struggled to reach his high 90s fastball velocity of last season. Showalter said Bundy is still working to refine integral parts of his game, like improving his time to the plate.
Bundy made four spring appearances, going 1-1 with a 1.13 ERA, allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits over eight innings with five strikeouts and six walks.
After his outing Thursday — in which he showed improvement from his previous appearance but still wasn’t pleased with his command — Bundy spoke about dealing with frustration.
“It ain't easy, but you learn from it,” Bundy said. “That's how you get up and over things, you just have to fail some to succeed like that.”
For the most part, Gausman has outshined Bundy this spring. He’s allowed four earned runs in 10 spring innings, striking out 11 and walking six, brandishing an impressive fastball-changeup combo that has kept major league hitters off balance, as well as a rare polish that evidently comes from being groomed in college.
With several pitchers in the mix for the fifth rotation spot and starters beginning to stretch themselves into five-inning outings, there aren’t many empty innings. After Sunday’s split-squad games, just 12 Grapefruit League games remain.
Saturday, right-hander Jake Arrieta, one of a half dozen pitchers competing for the rotation spot, threw 4 2/3 innings — most of any Orioles pitcher this spring.
Arrieta is competing with Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Brian Matusz, Jair Jurrjens and T.J. McFarland for the final rotation spot. And as spring training winds down with no front runner, the Orioles face tough decisions.
Showalter expects more difficult discussions and some disappointment.
“I could throw a blanket and say what’s expected, but as long as they take the disappointment in the right direction, and the direction is in the Orioles winning a championship ...” Showalter said. “It’s as simple as that. I don’t begrudge them that emotion. I would have that. I’m not disappointed in them. I’m frustrated for them because there will be some people who will be capable of doing the job. That’s the whole point. We haven’t had that issue much.”
The Orioles also optioned right-hander Todd Redmond to Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday. He will report to the Triple-A camp to be stretched out as a starter.
Redmond — claiemd off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds last month — didn’t pitch more than two innings in any of his five Grapefruit League outings. He allowed five earned runs on eight hits in eight spring innings, striking out eight and walking four.
The moves leave the Orioles with 49 players in big league camp.