Orioles' Dylan Bundy only part of solution for reeling rotation

BALTIMORE -- Before the All-Star break, Dylan Bundy had finally gotten comfortable in the Orioles’ bullpen. A week after the break, he’s looking pretty darned comfy in the starting rotation.

On the final weekend before the All-Star game, Bundy showed up to Camden Yards with a dozen T-shirts he’d gotten custom-made for himself and the other Baltimore Orioles relievers. The black shirts, which say “YEE YEE” in orange letters on the front, are a nod to a phrase that comes from one of Bundy’s favorite country tunes (Granger Smith’s “Country Boy Song”); the phrase has become a rallying cry for the bullpen. The T-shirts are also a sign of just how far Bundy -- a rookie who’s been forced to learn on the job because he’s out of minor league options -- has come in terms of confidence and feeling that he belongs.

After a bumpy beginning to the season, the 23-year old right-hander seemed to finally find a niche as a long reliever. In his six games prior to the All-Star break, with manager Buck Showalter making a concerted effort to give his young hurler starter-like rest in between each outing, Bundy tallied 19 strikeouts in 14 innings and didn’t allow an earned run. In the last of those six appearances, he worked 2.1 scoreless frames against the Dodgers, with every out coming on a whiff.

He was so successful -- and the Orioles' rotation so shaky -- that even though the team had originally planned to limit Bundy to about 70 innings in his first big league season after three injury-plagued years in the minors (including Tommy John surgery), Showalter decided he had no choice but to shove the former first-rounder into the rotation.

Innings limit, schminnings limit.

In Bundy’s first career start Sunday, he lasted just 3.1 innings and threw 70 pitches, which was 13 more than his previous season high as a reliever. He showed flashes of why he was a fourth overall pick (see: fastball, high 90s), but he also served up three gopher balls and raised questions as to whether the Orioles were doing the right thing with him.

While plenty of fans in Baltimore support Bundy’s move to the rotation, some worry about how a starter’s workload over the next couple of months could impact the long-term health of his surgically repaired right arm. Prior to Friday’s game, Showalter addressed the issue.

“I've yet to have anybody show this magical grid that shows you the cause and effect,” he said. “It just doesn't exist. Believe me, I've exhaustively looked. You know how we are about the health of our guys. It's unknown.”

What was also unknown was how many pitches Showalter would let Bundy throw, especially against a stout Cleveland Indians squad. The same Indians who have the best record in baseball since June 1 (30-14). The same Indians who, over the last two weeks, have been scoring more runs than any team in the majors (6.0 per game). But as good as the Tribe have been recently, Baltimore’s starter was better Friday.

Working in a Baltimore heat that was so sweltering he had to change his jersey several times, Bundy struck out five, walked none and didn’t allow an earned run in five innings, pacing the Orioles to a 5-1 victory over Cleveland.

“It was awesome,” said Manny Machado of Bundy’s effort. “We need more of it. He’s on pace to do something special for us, carrying this pitching staff and helping us get to where we need to be. It was impressive what he did today. I know everybody in here was impressed.”

As for Bundy, he was just happy to pick up his first career W as a starter.

“It meant a lot to me,” he said with a wide grin after the game. “I hope there’s more to come.”

If Showalter’s words are any indication, there will be more to come, and soon. When asked before Friday’s victory -- which, combined with a Red Sox loss, moved the O’s back into first place in the AL East -- if Bundy could potentially stay in the rotation for the remainder of the season, the Baltimore manager kept it sweet and simple.

“Yes,” he said.

After the game, Bundy was asked how he felt about starting for the rest of the season.

“That’s not up to me,” said Bundy, whose 87 pitches were almost 25 percent more than he threw in his first start. “I’m just going to keep pitching whenever I’m supposed to, and that can all work itself out at the end of the year.”

One thing that won’t work itself it out is the rest of the Orioles’ rotation. Even with Bundy as part of the front five, which is admittedly a little cart-before-horse, Baltimore still needs another starter (Ubaldo Jimenez, Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson have failed their 637 combined auditions for the No. 5 spot). And you could even argue that the way Yovani Gallardo has been pitching (5.69 ERA, 1.70 WHIP), the O’s need a couple of starters. Regardless of the number, the need is obvious.

“We’re going to try to add to our rotation,” said GM Dan Duquette, whose starters came into the Cleveland series with a 5.06 ERA that ranked 26th in the majors. “We need some more consistency from the guys we have here. We're going to try to add to it via the trade route.”

In the meantime, it looks as if Duquette and the Orioles will keep running Bundy out there every fifth day. Even though he’s no longer a member of the bullpen, he still has “Yee Yee” privileges. In fact, the day before his first start, Bundy -- ever the rookie -- actually asked Zach Britton if it was OK to still wear the custom-made T-shirt. At first, the All-Star closer busted the rook’s chops and told him no. Then, 20 minutes later, Britton loosened up the reins and reversed course. On Friday, Bundy proudly rocked his “Yee Yee” shirt pregame. Then he went out and showed that he’s just as comfortable starting as he was relieving. Well, almost.

“Starting's a new role, and I'm getting to know the starters better now,” said Bundy. “Getting into that routine now is a little different than in the bullpen, so I feel like I'm learning something new all over again.”