BALTIMORE -- The Orioles have been cutting and pasting their starting rotation all season, and now manager Buck Showalter is just going to have to make the best of it as they head toward the stretch run.
Their top starter, Chris Tillman, was a scratch from Wednesday night's key matchup against the American League East-rival Red Sox at Camden Yards, replaced by right-hander Dylan Bundy, who allowed five runs and didn't make it out of the fifth inning in the O's 8-1 loss.
"He could pitch today," Showalter said. "If it was Sept. 25, he probably would. But it's not, and we didn't like some of the things [about his shoulder] that were described."
Tillman is 15-4 with a 3.46 ERA, and until Wednesday, he hadn't missed a start. No other Orioles starter has more than five wins, and Kevin Gausman (at 4.04) has the next-best ERA.
The O's can ill afford to lose Tillman for any protracted period of time. Tillman said he was confident that he will be good to go Saturday.
"I mean, you're always confident. You never know, though," he said. "I'm not going to do anything stupid by any means. You want to be smart about it. But I feel like Saturday is a good spot to try and shoot for."
Statistics don't lie, and if everything begins with the performance of your starters, the Orioles are up against it in their race for the division title with Toronto and Boston.
Entering Wednesday, Blue Jays starters led the AL in both ERA (3.67) and wins (53). The O's are at the opposite end of the spectrum, placing 12th of the 15 AL teams in ERA (4.82) and eighth in wins (39). The Red Sox are third in wins (48) and ninth in ERA (4.39).
Even more significantly, Orioles hurlers average just above 5 1/3 innings a start, taxing their bullpen, which is leading the AL in ERA (3.16) and is second in wins (27). In the Majors, only the Nationals' relievers (3.10 ERA) have done better.
But the Nats match their bullpen with a second-in-the-Majors ERA for starters (3.38). That's why Washington is running away at the moment in the National League East.
The O's are trying to keep pace with the Sox and Jays, and right now, they have been able to do so despite their starters not giving them much traction. The bullpen is obviously keeping them in the race.
"I like the [starters] we're running out there," Showalter said. "They give us a chance to win. The problem is the depth of it. That's the reason why we backed off on Tilly, because the next line of defense is a challenge."
The paucity of the starting pitching has been a mantra for the Orioles all season. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette scoured the trade market for pitching and finally acquired left-hander Wade Miley from the Mariners on July 31.
Thus far, Miley hasn't been the answer. He's 0-2 in his three starts for Baltimore with a 7.04 ERA.
In his search for some consistency, Showalter has used nine starters this season, including veteran pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Ubaldo Jimenez, who have combined for nine wins and 123 runs allowed. Gallardo went five innings in Tuesday night's 5-3 loss to the Red Sox, which is basically the norm for Orioles starters this season.
Tyler Wilson, a right-hander who has been bounced back and forth to the Minor Leagues, has made 13 starts, and he is now the long man in the bullpen, coming in to replace Bundy on Wednesday night.
There's no question that if things continue to be problematic, Wilson could be cycled back into the rotation.
"He's a contributor," Showalter said. "He's been there in times of need and will be again. He's in our bullpen and available and would be a consideration to start if there's a problem there."
One can imagine, then, that the last thing Showalter wanted to see was Tillman's name come up on an injury report after his last outing on Aug. 11, a victory over the A's in Oakland.
Tillman pitched seven innings of five-hit, two-run ball and earned the victory at the Coliseum. He felt no worse for wear when he came off the mound, but the next day was a different story.
"I just woke up really sore after my last start. But I didn't feel a thing during the last one, which I think is a good thing," Tillman said. "It was a little sorer than normal, so I started working on it then and it just never really got any better. [But now] it's been getting better recently every day. It's significantly improved."
Showalter made a note of it and alerted Bundy he would probably replace Tillman on Wednesday. Showalter said the injury began "coming up on the sheet" this past weekend when Baltimore was in San Francisco. But the cagey veteran manager didn't announce that fact until after the O's lost to the Red Sox on Tuesday night.
"We told these guys a couple of days ago," Showalter said. "It wasn't like we hit Bundy between the eyes [Tuesday] night with it. They knew it was a possibility. We just wanted to see how the work days went."
The work days didn't go so well, and neither did Bundy's replacement start. Showalter will be forced to cut and paste his rotation for the remainder of the season.