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Orioles prospect Dylan Bundy aiming for June return from Tommy John surgery

Major League BaseballBaseballDylan BundyBaltimore OriolesEthicsBuck Showalter

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.

“In high school, I didn't know a whole lot of shoulder stuff. I just worked out and long tossed and did some mini-band stuff for my shoulder. Right now, we're doing a lot of exercises and definitely my shoulder feels a lot stronger than it has been, so I know coming back that if I keep doing these exercises, it should feel great.”

Now he has moved on to a throwing progression that will likely take him into spring training.

“Right now, [Walker] told me the main thing is throwing,” Bundy said. “That’s what my job is, to pitch, so the main thing is throwing. Before I started throwing, the main thing is getting your shoulder exercises done every day — and elbow exercises, whatever you’re doing that day. That was the main goal — to do that right and do it correctly and stay on it. And now every other day, it’s throwing. That’s the main goal. That’s what you want to accomplish every other day and do it right and get good use from it.”

Showalter is hesitant to let Bundy’s recovery process get too far ahead of itself. When asked whether he believes Bundy will be pitching in games again in late June, he nods his head slowly.

And even once Bundy returns, there’s no certainty that he’s ready to join the major league club. He wasn’t a finished product when he made his big league debut in late 2012.

But there is hope that he can help the Orioles sooner than later.

“I look for him to be a viable option for us in July,” Showalter said.

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Dylan Bundy speaks

Here is a full transcript of Dylan Bundy's comments Monday to reporters.

On how he feels physically:

Everything's great. I'm throwing without pain for the first time in a year, so that's always a positive. I'm up to 60 feet now. It feels great. Now it's just a progression to get out to 200 feet and then get on a mound. I think the plan is hopefully to be on a mound or a half mound at the end of spring training."

On whether he feels like he’s ahead of schedule:

It's a tough question, whether you're ahead of schedule or not on schedule, because different players come back at different times. 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.

On his goal on a return:

They say 10 to 12 to 14 months, something like that. I had surgery on [June 27], so really my plan is to be in a game competitively by June 28. Hopefully, the plan is to be pitching in sim games or these games down here in the GCL for a little bit by June. That's the plan. Plans change, though.

On what he has learned about the process:

Go to the trainers. 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. We tried different processes -- rehab, rest and then the platelet rich plasma thing -- and that didn't work. I wish I had it done earlier, so I could come back earlier this year, but that's just how things go.

On how tough it was to be out:

That first month after surgery was hard, seeing everybody playing, and I'm just sitting on the couch resting. It was hard. But after I started doing my shoulder exercises and stuff like that, seeing progress helped.

On whether he feels stronger now:

Definitely, my shoulder because I've never done so many shoulder exercises in my life. In high school, I didn't know a whole lot of shoulder stuff. I just worked out and long tossed and did some mini-band stuff for my shoulder. Right now, we're doing a lot of exercises and definitely my shoulder feels a lot stronger than it has been, so I know coming back that if I keep doing these exercises, it should feel great.

On whether it will change the way he works out:

There are some things we’ve already changed as far as what I have done in the offseason. As far as workout-wise, there’s some stuff that I’ve changed that I don’t do anymore. It could be for the better. You learn as you go. I changed some stuff last year in my offseason program that might have hurt me, might have not. You never know. But as you get older, your body changes. You’ve got to change with it.

On whether those changes involve less lifting and more arm strengthening:

Not so much less lifting, I mean, yes, we’re doing less upper body, just because I’m still six months out, but mainly some of the exercises I did back then, because I told them what I did in the offseason -- you know, communication is huge between us -- I was being honest with them and telling them what we were doing. We cut some of it out. But we also do some of the stuff I have been doing, which mainly is legs for me.

On his main focus now in rehab:

Right now, [Walker] told me the main thing is throwing. That’s what my job is, to pitch, so the main thing is throwing. Before I started throwing, the main thing is getting your shoulder exercises done every day -- and elbow exercises, whatever you’re doing that day. That was the main goal -- to do that right and do it correctly and stay on it. And now every other day, it’s throwing. That’s the main goal. That’s what you want to accomplish every other day and do it right and get good use from it.

On whether he can see himself helping the major league club in the second half of the season:

I don’t look at it that way. 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.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Major League BaseballBaseballDylan BundyBaltimore OriolesEthicsBuck Showalter
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