It was reported yesterday that Chris Tillman received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right shoulder in December, and that he would not be the Orioles' opening day starter and could begin the year on the disabled list. That's not catastrophic news for the chances of the 2017 Orioles, but it's certainly not good.
In the short term, not that much changes. The Orioles could go out and sign a starter, but the free agent market was pretty already weak in starting pitching to begin with. And now, some available starters are Henderson Alvarez, Jorge de la Rosa, Doug Fister, Mat Latos, Jon Niese, and Jake Peavy. Clearly, they're all flawed in some way.
Then again, the O's internal options after Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley -- Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright, Jayson Aquino, Logan Verrett, T.J. McFarland, Chris Lee, Parker Bridwell, Joe Gunkel, and the newly acquired Gabriel Ynoa -- all have their shortcomings as well, without the benefit of much (or any) past major league success.
There's no real need to panic (yet, at least), both because Tillman is good but not great and that rest might do him well and he could be fine when the Orioles need him. Because of off-days in early April, the Orioles can get by without a fifth starter until mid-April. So who knows just yet if the Orioles choose to wait things out or make a minor signing or acquisition.
After trading Yovani Gallardo to the Mariners, the Orioles' rotation of Tillman-Gausman-Bundy-Jimenez-Miley, in some order, was pretty much set. Before Tillman's injury threw a wrench into those plans, the only real question was how the Orioles would use Bundy out of the gate.
Any reasonable expectation for Bundy's first major league work in four years would have included something around 40-50 average-ish innings out of the bullpen and simply getting through the year without any physical setbacks. Instead, Bundy threw almost 110 innings, started 14 games (all after the all-star break), and posted an overall ERA of 4.02 (3.08 in relief, 4.52 as a starter). And, again, he did all of that while throwing about 65 combined innings in 2014 and 2015 (after missing the entire 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery). Bundy's numbers were more impressive out of the bullpen and his velocity dipped after moving into the starting rotation, but just getting him through the year unbroken was a moral victory.
As long as the O's had their five healthy starters to begin the 2017 season, there was some thought the O's could hold Bundy back a little at the beginning of the year and keep his innings down by using him in a relief role. With Tillman on the shelf, you can throw any chance of that happening out the window. The Orioles will need Bundy during the season's first week, and as long as he stays healthy, he could realistically pitch 160-plus innings in 2017. That's another large jump.
Still, even though there's nothing wrong with fans for being wary of Bundy breaking down, perhaps he's ready for this expanded, full-time role. He has the benefit of at least knowing he's going to be starting in the upcoming season. He's experimenting with his infamous cutter. He's committed to throwing his changeup, a welcome addition to his pitch arsenal. Whether Bundy's body is ready for an entire season in the rotation or not, we're going to find out.