Between his Tommy John surgery and shoulder injury Dylan Bundy only threw 65.1 innings from 2013-2015. Entering this year he'd pitched just 39.4 innings above A+ ball. But the former #1 prospect was out of options forcing the Orioles to break camp with him on the 25 man – and keep him there. The Orioles plan is to limit him to 70 innings this year and start him next year but that may be easier said than done.
Through two and a half months Bundy is still struggling to top 95 MPH on the radar gun out of the bullpen (he's topped 95 in just six of 18 games according to Fangraphs). 95 is fast – but he was taken with the third pick in the 2011 draft for his ability to throw 100 while starting – a fairly uncommon ability.
Bundy's professional debut in 2012 was stunning. In 30 innings in A ball he didn't give up a run. He struck out 40 to just 2 walks. After a successful year the Orioles gave the 19 year old a cup of coffee in September. Fans might have noticed his velocity was way down from as advertised; but it was just two games at the end of his first professional season so there was no reason to be alarmed. But then Bundy was unable to pitch at all in 2013 and had Tommy John surgery after a failed rehab attempt.
Suddenly that contract came into play. Bundy garnered an MLB deal out of the draft which meant that while he still had MLB options he would have to be optioned to the minors each spring he didn't make the team.
Bundy was slow to recover from his TJ surgery but when he finally returned to game action in 2015 he was hitting 97 at Bowie relatively early on. The results weren't spectacular but they weren't bad for a guy that hadn't thrown in a real game in two years. It was promising.
Even with the contract situation there was no way the Orioles were going to add a guy to the 25 man roster that hadn't pitched in two years. Not when the 2015 pen was stout and the front office believed it was in contention. You figured: OK the Orioles eat the option here but he should be ready for MLB action next spring. But then his shoulder went out and he missed the rest of 2015.
And the Orioles find themselves in their current pickle.
I want to jump back into the velocity because it is concerning with the Orioles' goal of him being a starting pitcher next year. Hovering around 93, 94 MPH and occasionally hitting 96 or so is fine out of the bullpen, but that's over 1, 2, and at most 3 innings. What about seven or eight innings?
It's fairly common for guys to be able to throw much harder out of the pen: They don't have to pace themselves for what you hope is at least six innings when a pitcher starts. The Orioles got an extreme case of this when Tommy Hunter was moved to the bullpen and his mid-90s fastball was suddenly topping out at 101.
If Dylan Bundy can only throw in the low 90s as a starter will he still be effective? It's certainly possible, numerous starting pitchers have done it, but Bundy will be the complete opposite of a seasoned veteran next year. He will enter 2016 having never started with his diminished velocity. He'll have just spring training to try to get through a lineup three and four times.
Perhaps it is a matter of getting comfortable and conditioning. It's completely within the realm of possibility that he has his velocity back in camp next year, or even slowly regains it this year. The Orioles can only hope.
Assuming Bundy starts next year, the next question would be what kind of inning limit he'd be looking at. In regular season 2014 Kevin Gausman was only allowed to throw 158.2 innings after throwing 129.2 in 2013 – nearly double Bundy's current limit.
In even a best case scenario it would seem that Bundy is going to have to spend at least part of next year in the bullpen to limit his innings. Assuming Bundy can throw six innings per start, doubling his work load to 140 innings would take just 24 starts. What happens if the Orioles are contenders next year? They certainly plan on being one.
In the meantime the Orioles are left with a reliever that thus far has struggled to be consistent. A promising April had people somewhat excited but since the start of May Bundy has pitched to a 5.50 ERA. Only two of his 18 outings have been clean.
Coming up he was a strikeout machine, but Bundy has rung up just 16 in 27 IP. He's having to relearn how to pitch without the upper-90s heat. If he gets his heat back, but has learned how to pitch smarter from all this then he could be scary but right now he's trying to simply be competent. Right now a 1.74 WHIP and 4.33 isn't what you want coming out of the pen in any close games.
The Orioles don't have a choice. Bundy right now in June 2016 is still just about potential. He's still a mystery. These first 30 innings are for all intents and purposes still rehab outings. Outings that would normally be in Bowie and if he gave up twice as many runs you'd just say “oh he's getting he feet under him it's been three years, no worries” and you'd be right. It's still entirely a mystery if he's any good or not.
It's a tough situation for Bundy. Coming back after basically three years off, having to relearn how to pitch, and do it in the middle of an AL East pennant race is a tough shake. It would be better for all parties if he could do it in Bowie, but that's how the contract played out.
(Stats: Baseball Reference, Fangraphs)