Coming into Thursday’s game the Orioles sit three games above .500 and are tied with the Yankees for first place in the AL East. Despite the lack of quality starts and a few injuries to key position players, the Orioles have played themselves to the third best record in the American League. It’s a position few baseball insiders predicted in spring training. One advantage the Orioles have seen this season is the health of their pitching staff. It’s clear the rotation has not been stellar so far, but not a single starter has missed a start. However, over the course of the 131 remaining games this trend is unlikely to continue. When needed, who will be the next person up?
The obvious choice would be Kevin Gausman. He struggled at times in the Orioles rotation last season, but eventually became a valuable arm out of the bullpen. Although he started the year in AAA Norfolk, it’s clear that the Orioles see him being a factor with the major-league squad sometime this season. Gausman has been on a pitch count of around 75, an obvious attempt to keep him fresh for the late season. However, recently Gausman has be shelved due to pneumonia. It’s not something that should force him to miss significant time, but if the Orioles needed an arm in the next couple weeks they wouldn’t call him up.
Dylan Bundy and Johan Santana are seemly on similar paths back to the majors after missing last season with arm surgeries. Santana looks to be close to a rehab assignment, which could make him available by the end of the month. However, with his loss in velocity he may struggle to find consistent success in the AL East. At this point in his career he may be more suited for a long-man/sixth starter spot in the bullpen, which still could be valuable in August and September.
Orioles fans are going to be watching Dylan Bundy’s rehab news closely all summer. It may be a slow process as Orioles are going be extremely cautious with their prize arm. Despite the fact that Bundy blew through the minors in 2012 and made an impressive debut in September with the Orioles, he pitched only 105 innings that season before missing last season with Tommy John. When he begins making rehab starts he’ll be on a strict pitch count. Orioles fans expecting him to be a major factor this season may be disappointed. However, he could provide a spark late in the season.
The Orioles have several other intriguing arms waiting in AAA. Steve Johnson showed he could have success at the major league level in 2012, but he’s been hampered by injuries the last two seasons and is currently struggling with a shoulder injury. The converted knuckle-baller Eddie Gamboa has had some early success this season with 39 strikeouts to only 9 walks through his first 41 innings. If he can find more consistent success with his knuckle-ball he could be an intriguing arm to watch for later in the season. The biggest disappointment this season may be Suk-min Yoon who has pitched to an Era over 7 through his first six starts, and may be headed for the bullpen where he pitched last season in Korea.
Pitching depth is key to any team looking to contend in September, and Dan Duquette has done a good job accumulating quality arms at the lower levels. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see which arm immerges as the next arm up for the Orioles.