Dylan Bundy's visit to Dr. James Andrews is a cause for concern

April 23, 2013|Peter Schmuck

Let's stipulate right now that the Orioles are being open and honest about the Dylan Bundy situation and that there's no reason — at least not yet — to get all hot and bothered over the nagging forearm soreness that has prompted him to seek a second medical opinion from famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews.

Okay, now that we've established that, go ahead and panic.

Bundy is a very tough kid who would run through the clubhouse wall if it would get him to the big leagues faster, so if he's saying that there's still something going on with his arm after throwing a relatively low-inpact, flat-ground session at the Orioles' extended spring training facility in Florida, it's not unreasonable to be concerned that the Orioles' top pitching prospect may be looking at some serious down time.

Wait, make that the consensus top pitching prospect in all of baseball, which adds another layer of meaning to this developing situation, because the mere suspicion of a potentially serious arm injury could diminish the value of one of the game's hottest commodities.

Manager Buck Showalter revealed during his pregame news briefing on Tuesday afternoon that Bundy was in the process of getting his arm re-evaluated. He stressed that the MRI Bundy underwent when he started to experience discomfort showed no structural damage to his elbow, and he cautioned against reading too much into the decision for Bundy to see Andrews.

"I try to take it for what it is right now and that's that he wanted to get a second opinion just to be sure because he hoped it would resolve quicker than this,'' Showalter said. "When he threw from 90 feet [Monday], he felt it somewhat, from the way I understand it. … I haven't heard anything that would make me feel differently."

Certainly, everybody hopes that's all it is, just a kid and his agent doing everything possible to make sure a little problem doesn't turn into a big one, if it isn't a big one already. But it's hard to come up with a baseball phrase that evokes more organizational angst than "going to see Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion."

Remember, we're talking about a 20-year-old pitcher who throws in the upper 90s and has been working for the past year with the Orioles minor league instructional staff to improve his mechanics, so you know what's going to happen if he ends up having arm surgery and missing the next 12 to 18 months.

That would set off a round of organizational second-guessing to rival what happened with Nationals phenom Steven Strasburg, who was rushed up to the major leagues in 2010 and made 12 starts before undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction and missing more than a year.

Nobody is saying that Bundy is going down that same road, but no one would be terribly surprised if he did. The incidence of hard-throwing young pitchers developing arm problems and needing an extended time out early in their pro careers is so high that many organizations are severely limiting the workloads of their most valuable prospects.

The Nats created quite a debate after the fact last year when they shut down Strasburg at a pre-determined time and ended up making a quick exit from the playoffs.

It's just too easy to assume the worst, especially considering the intense and unorthodox training regimen that Bundy employed to build up his arm and body in high school. But, really, it's not even about that, considering arm and shoulder problems among young pitchers are all too common under any circumstance. If you recall, the Orioles drafted high school pitcher Matt Hobgood in the first round of the June draft two years before Bundy, and he's still knocking around the organization after undergoing shoulder surgery.

"It's a pretty big club,'' said a veteran scout in town for the Blue Jays series, referring to the number of young pitchers who suffer from arm problems. "How many are able to avoid that?"

The Orioles are hoping the only big club Bundy joins is theirs at some point this season, but there have been some red flags. He arrived in the organization throwing his fastball close to triple figures, but his velocity this spring was not quite so otherworldly.

Rest assured that no matter what comes of his visit to Dr. Andrews, the Orioles are going tread very lightly with Bundy for a while.

As well they should.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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