BALTIMORE -- Much of the Orioles' offseason shopping revolves around upgrading the starting rotation. And while the O's have good reason to seek those upgrades, with just two spots secured entering Spring Training, what was often overshadowed by the rest of the rotation was the year Dylan Bundy had.
Make no mistake, Baltimore needs to get starting pitching -- front-line, top-of-the-rotation arms. But Bundy showed glimpses of what his true potential could be in 2017 -- his first full season in a Major League rotation -- and his ascent will be critical in assessing the Orioles' postseason chances.
Bundy -- who, along with Kevin Gausman, will be penciled into the 2018 rotation -- was a bit of a question mark last spring. After all, he had spent half of the previous season in the bullpen, promoted more out of need and a bit more quickly than the O's would have preferred.
No one was sure how long Baltimore would take him into the season and how Bundy would hold up. While he certainly showed signs of tiring down the stretch, the 25-year-old was dominant the first two months, going 3-1 with a 1.65 ERA in his first five starts and 6-3 with a 2.89 ERA in his first 11 games.
Perhaps no game showed Bundy's potential more than Aug. 29 against the Mariners. He threw a one-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts and just two walks. It was pure dominance and one of the highlights in his 28-start season.
Part of that late-season spike was due to extra rest the Orioles tried to give the young righty down the stretch. Bundy's ERA dropped from 4.68 (13 starts) on regular rest to 2.68 with six or more days' rest (six starts). It's a small sample size, but an interesting trend that could allow the righty to stay fresh longer and deeper into the regular season
Still, Bundy led the O's rotation in wins (13) and ERA (4.24), and he was second in innings (169 2/3) and strikeouts (152) behind Gausman. Bundy used a slider that was shelved the previous year more than 22 percent of the time, according to Statcast™, one of the highest percentages in the American League and one that trailed only his four-seam fastball.
Yes, Bundy's velocity was down a tick from previous years, but his fastball stayed consistent until the end of the season, prompting the Orioles to give him extra rest and ultimately shut him down after lasting 4 1/3 innings against Boston on Sept. 18.
Perhaps it is unrealistic for Bundy, who had Tommy John surgery while in the Minor Leagues, to be a 32-start, 200-inning pitcher year in, year out. Only time will tell. But there's no reason he can't physically withstand the rigors of an entire Major League season, continue to improve and easily surpass the 180-innings mark in 2018.