BALTIMORE — The Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles are practically twins.
Both teams are floating at or near the top of the American League East. Both feature heavy-hitting offenses that have a knack for smashing baseballs. Both have been relying on young, stud hurlers who are just getting their feet wet as big league starters. But the way they’re handling those horses couldn’t be more different.
If you’re an Orioles fan, you were already nervous about the Dylan Bundy Experiment. You were nervous because over the past quarter-century, Baltimore’s track record with developing pitchers is, how you say, not good. You were nervous because when it comes to pitchers drafted in the first round, said track record is especially not good. You were nervous because the O’s said they were going to be cautious with Bundy, the mega-talented first-rounder who spent the majority of the past three years on the shelf with various injuries, but when he started to show flashes (and when the Birds’ rotation continued to stink), they pulled a 180 and said, “Innings limits? We don’t need no stinking innings limits.”
As if that weren’t enough, this past weekend, the Blue Jays decided to put the brakes on Aaron Sanchez. If you’re not familiar with Sanchez, he’s a lot like Bundy. Both are former first-round picks. Both came into this season at 23 years of age. Both have been the subject of much discussion as to exactly how many innings he can be entrusted with this season before his right arm falls off.
The big difference is that since being drafted, Sanchez has pretty much remained healthy. Bundy? Not so much (see: John, Tommy, et al). In other words, the Orioles have way more reason to be cautious with Bundy than the Jays do with Sanchez. And yet Baltimore is being decidedly less cautious.
While the Blue Jays announced that Sanchez, who’s 11-1 with a 2.71 ERA and is/was a legit Cy Young candidate in his first season in the rotation, is headed back to the bullpen after another start or two, the O’s are doing the exact opposite with Bundy. They went from “we’re going to keep him in the pen and limit him to 70 innings and then see how things play out next year” to “we need him in the rotation right now and we’re totally fine with him pitching twice as many innings as we originally said.” In other words, when it comes to handling Bundy, the Birds — who don’t have a whole lot of options — have taken off the kid gloves and replaced them with boxing gloves.
If you’re an Orioles fan, this makes you nervous. If, however, you’re manager Buck Showalter, you remain cool as a cucumber. At least publicly.
“Two completely different situations,” Showalter said when asked after Tuesday’s 5-1 win over Texas whether Toronto’s handling of Sanchez gives him pause. “It’s their business. They know their player a lot better. I’ve got my hands full managing our team. We backed off at the front end to have Dylan at the end, and they are where they are because of some of the things that Sanchez had done.”
Everything Showalter and GM Dan Duquette said in spring training and over the first couple of months of the season suggested that Bundy would remain in the bullpen and that 70 innings was the magic number. No ifs, ands or buts. But when June rolled around and the rookie started figuring things out (and when the O’s rotation continued to tank), well, the Birds had to make adjustments.
The fact Bundy worked only 38 innings prior to the All-Star break is looking like sheer genius right about now. With the way Bundy has thrown in his first few turns as a starter, it’s looking as if the Orioles will need him in the rotation the rest of the way if they plan on outlasting Toronto and Boston in the AL East. You could even argue that, right now, with just four outings on his rotation résumé, he’s already the team’s No. 2 starter behind Chris Tillman. That’s how good Bundy has been.
On Tuesday, all he did was take a no-hitter into the sixth inning for the second straight start. In the process, he became the first O’s hurler to have multiple no-hit bids of five-innings plus in the same season since Jason Hammel in 2012, according to ESPN Stats Info research. And Bundy’s were back-to-back. Even though he lost the no-no on an Elvis Andrus single with two down in the sixth, Bundy ended up going seven innings, allowing just the one hit, while fanning seven and walking one. Since getting pulled in the fourth inning of his first start against Tampa Bay, he has now had three straight impressive starts against three impressive offenses. Against Cleveland, he didn’t allow an earned run in five innings. Facing Colorado, he took a perfect game into the sixth. And on Tuesday, he shut down Texas. If you’re keeping score at home, all three of those teams rank among MLB’s top 10 in both average and runs.
All of which is to say, so far the Dylan Bundy Experiment has been a smashing success. Just ask the crowd at Camden Yards, which gave the O’s starter a standing ovation fit for a savior as he strode off the mound after the top of the seventh on Tuesday.
“People screaming, yeah, it was fun,” Bundy said of the onlooker love. “I didn’t really notice too much during the game, but I noticed coming off the field. We’ve got great fans here, they support us and what we do here.”
Even when they’re really nervous.