SARASOTA, Fla. -- The pain in Dylan Bundy’s electric right arm is gone. It’s the 21-year-old phenom’s first victory of 2014.
Bundy’s rehabilitation from elbow ligament reconstruction surgery last summer has been a tedious climb full of small steps, but the Orioles’ pitching prospect has learned the value of patience.
Sixteen months ago, when he made his major league debut, Bundy was on the fast track. But he hasn’t pitched in a regular season game at any level since Sept. 25, 2012, the second of his two appearances with the Orioles following a call-up that month to end his first professional season.
Now he has circled June 28 — one year and one day after his Tommy John surgery — as the target date for his return. Right now, he is throwing from 60 feet every other day as part of a throwing progression that will eventually increase to 200 feet.
Eventually, he will move to a half mound and then a full mound, which he hopes to do by the end of spring training. If he starts pitching in simulated or Gulf Coast League games by the beginning of June, Bundy’s goal to return in late June will be realistic.
“It's a tough question, whether you're ahead of schedule or not on schedule, because different players come back at different times,” Bundy said Monday following a rehab session in Sarasota as part of the team’s weeklong minicamp. “It just kind of depends on your work ethic and whether you have setbacks when you get back on a mound. But I'd say I'm on schedule so far, and I'm happy with it.
“Everything's great. I'm throwing without pain for the first time in a year, so that's always a positive.”
Bundy, the fourth overall pick in 2011, and fellow first-rounder Kevin Gausman — the club’s top two prospects — represent the organization’s new cavalry. The club hopes that they will develop into front-line starters sooner rather than later.
Even watching the duo run sprints side by side along the warning track at the Ed Smith Stadium complex — as they did Monday morning — evokes optimism for the future.
But Bundy’s focus isn’t on the major leagues. It is on getting healthy. One must happen before the other. He said he can’t think about when he can get back to the majors.
“I don’t look at it that way,” Bundy said. “I look at it like I want to be competing by mid-June, something like that, and hopefully no setbacks happen. As far as getting back to the big leagues, that’s their decision. That’s up to [manager] Buck [Showalter] and the front-office people. However it goes, that’s how it goes. I can’t really predict the future.”
Showalter has received updates on Bundy’s progress, which has been supervised by Orioles minor league medical coordinator Dave Walker, throughout the offseason.
“I really like the way his rehab is going,” Showalter said. “I think, looking back on it, it might be the best thing that’s ever happened to him, all things considered.
“I think it tests their patience to have something you want so badly to be delayed that much, but to have the discipline through this period to do what has to be done.”
The process has been a learning experience for Bundy, who entered last season ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the game by Baseball America. Last spring, he tried pitching through pain in his arm. He had pitched through pain before, so this time seemed no different.
“Go to the trainers,” Bundy said when asked the biggest lesson he’s learned. “If you've got a little bit of pain, no matter if it's a small thing, maybe there's a chance they can take care of it earlier. That's a little piece of advice. I tried to throw through it because that's just my mentality. If I think I could have gotten through it, I tried it, especially down in the minor league camp, and it didn't work for me.”
The Orioles sidelined Bundy with forearm and elbow tightness late in spring training. After seeing Dr. James Andrews in late April, Bundy received a platelet-rich plasma injection that was supposed to accelerate the healing process but also forced him to sit out six additional weeks. Even though an initial MRI on Bundy’s elbow in April was clean, according to the Orioles, another one found a ligament tear that needed surgery.
“We tried different processes — rehab, rest and then the platelet-rich plasma thing — and that didn't work,” Bundy said. “I wish I had [surgery] done earlier, so I could come back earlier this year, but that's just how things go.”
The first step in Bundy’s rehab process was regaining the strength in his shoulder and elbow, and that involved shoulder exercises he said he had never done before.
“That first month after surgery was hard, seeing everybody playing, and I'm just sitting on the couch resting,” he said. “It was hard. But after I started doing my shoulder exercises and stuff like that, seeing progress helped.