Dylan Bundy was the first Saturday night to say he still has work to do before he legitimately can be considered an option for the Orioles' major league club.
Making his second rehabilitation start for short-season Single-A Aberdeen, the club's top prospect, working his way back from reconstructive elbow surgery a year ago, was dominant Saturday during a 3-1 loss in 11 innings. He threw five scoreless innings and allowed just two hits against Brooklyn, recording nine strikeouts, including five of the first six batters he faced.
The 20-year-old Bundy's fastball sat at 92 to 93 mph and hit 94 mph on the Ripken Stadium radar gun. He retired the first nine batters he faced before allowing a leadoff single in the fourth to Cyclones center fielder Tucker Tharp. Bundy later allowed a double in the inning, but struck out two and made the tag at home on Tharp, who attempted to score on a passed ball.
“The first two innings, I felt like I was able to throw the fastball anywhere I wanted to at any time,” said Bundy, who threw an extra 11 pitches in the bullpen after his appearance. “I've just got to be able to do that in the fourth, fifth, sixth, whenever I can. You have those kind of outings where you lose a little bit of command in those innings. I still have work to do.
“There's still the [velocity] to get back, obviously, but I feel like I'm competing the way I used to. I'm going after batters with the fastball and not throwing the soft stuff. … Competing-wise, I feel like I'm my old self.”
Bundy is scheduled to make one more start for Aberdeen on Friday — a year to the day he had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow — at home against Hudson Valley. He then will be re-evaluated for a possible move to a higher-level affiliate. Bundy said he didn't know what the next step for him would be, but said he hoped he would be sent to either High-A Frederick or Double-A Bowie.
“I take the rehab assignment as a rehab progression, and after that, I'm just another minor leaguer or big leaguer. Whatever happens, happens,” Bundy said. “I can't control that. Once the rehab assignment is done, I feel like it's done. It's time to compete in the minor leagues and earn a spot if it's available. I'm just going to do what I can, keep doing my work and see what happens.”
Bundy ended his night getting a pair of strikeouts — one swinging and one looking — on a biting, mid-70s curveball in the fifth inning. He was scheduled to pitch five innings or 75 pitches, whichever came first, but needed just 62 pitches to get through five innings.
In his two starts, Bundy has allowed just one run and seven hits in a combined 10 innings, with 15 strikeouts and one walk.
Bundy, the Orioles' first-round draft pick in 2011 and their top prospect, according to Baseball America, capped his first full professional season in 2012 with a stint in the majors that September. But before Saturday's game, the Orioles made it clear that they will continue to bring the right-hander along carefully in his recovery from reconstructive surgery. The top priority now is allowing Bundy to build his inning count while moving his way up the minor leagues against tougher competition.
“This season is a rehab process,” Orioles player development director Brian Graham said. “We need to be patient and get him back on track the right way, and we need to get him ready to be a productive part of this system come next spring. Whatever he does this year is a rehab process. Depending on how fast he comes will depend on how he finishes this year.
“It comes back to a certain degree [this year], and then next spring, you're going to see a really good-looking pitcher,” Graham said. “You're going to see the Dylan Bundy of before. That's consistent with everybody who has had this injury. There's a track record for guys who have had this injury, and next spring is when you'll see him blossom.”
The organization believes Bundy's velocity will improve over the next month and that his feel for his changeup will progress with more innings. Bundy's fastball sat in the mid-90s and hit 96 to 97 mph before the surgery, and has seen his velocity improve steadily as his command has improved. His changeup, which he said has been flat, had the late movement of old.
“I'm not worried about” velocity, Bundy said. “People tell me all the time it takes a little longer than a year to get it all back. And I've crept up a little bit. It seems like, every two or three starts, I've crept up a bit. If I can throw 91, 93, hit 94 every now and then and locate it, I'm fine with it.”
The Orioles will decide Bundy's next step after Friday's start.
“We're going to have to make a baseball decision based on how he pitches,” Graham said. “Certainly, health will be the most important factor in the decision, and then performance. For him to continue to develop and improve coming back from the surgery, he's got to be at levels where he can compete. And it's a progression where he can have success, and that's going to help him get better.”
But with a who's-who of Orioles front-office members, including executive vice president Dan Duquette, scout Dean Albany and Graham all in attendance, all eyes were on Bundy.
“He seemed to feel a little more comfortable last time out, and maybe he felt like he had to perform, and he certainly did,” IronBirds manager Matt Merullo said. “I don't think he felt any kind of pressure his first time out, and he may have felt a little pressure tonight with a bunch of people here. … It was a real hectic day. It was kind of like a big league opener in a lot of ways, with all the activity we had here. I thought he did a great job.”
IronBirds general manager Joe Harrington said the club benefited from an attendance spike Saturday because of Bundy. The announced attendance at Ripken Stadium was 5,001, just less than the announced 5,033 the IronBirds drew for their home opener Friday. Harrington said the game after the home opener is traditionally one of the lowest-drawing games of the season.