Even a year later, Dylan Bundy and the Orioles brass contend that the process that brought him out of the bullpen and into the starting rotation after last year’s All-Star break was an organic development.
Whatever the method behind bringing the former first-round draft pick back from nearly three years of elbow and shoulder troubles and finally making him a big league starter, the result is now a year’s worth of starts for Bundy since his first exactly one year ago today.
Now as then, Bundy evaluates his progress based solely on the health of his prized right arm.
“It’s easier to evaluate after a full season, I’d guess, but as long as the health is there, obviously, in my arm,” Bundy said. “I’m going out there every five days when I’m called upon to throw — as long as I go out there and do my job and give this team the innings that it needs, and hopefully give us a chance to win at the end of it.”
He’s done that more often than not.
In 32 starts since joining the rotation this time last year, Bundy is 16-13 with a 4.41 ERA and a 1.269 WHIP while striking out 7.8 batters per nine innings. This year, 12 of his 18 starts qualify as quality ones, and his 4.33 ERA leads the team. His peripheral stats suggest the 4.41 ERA could be flattering — his fielding-independent pitching (FIP), which calculates ERA based on factors in a pitcher’s control, is 5.02.
But even with two full half-seasons together, it’s hard to create a full picture of what the Orioles have with the 24-year-old right-hander they had to keep on the roster as a reliever on Opening Day last year. His best starts have been dazzling, even if they haven’t been as frequent lately. He sees himself as a pitcher who is still evolving, even with a year’s worth of starts completed.
When he worked as a reliever last year, and even after he transitioned into the rotation, he was pitching without his slider, to relieve possible pressure on his arm. But his fastball last year averaged 95 mph and exploded out of his hand. This year, its average velocity is down to 92 mph, but he’s added the slider back to his repertoire and dominated with it early in the season.
He believes he’ll ultimately be somewhere between those two pitchers.
“I showed parts of it last year and I showed parts of it this year,” he said. “Last year, I showed the velo, and this year, I’ve showed the four-pitch mix, changing speeds and keeping everybody off-balance like I did the first four or five starts of the year. I was mixing every single pitch I had and keeping hitters off-balance a lot. Last year, I had some of the velo pops.
"I think it’s kind of combined. You kind of morph into the guy you want to be, and hopefully at the right time, it’ll all come together, those two guys, and we’ll all reap the benefits of it.”
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette, who made Bundy his first top draft choice in 2011, said he’s been impressed with how Bundy has learned to pitch without the high-end velocity he had before Tommy John elbow surgery in 2013.
“I think he knows who he is, and he’s out there competing day in and day out,” Duquette said. “But it’s his first time going through the full-time [schedule of] being in the rotation. I think he’s learning about the demands, the physical demands and the mental demands of that workload. But he works hard and he wants to be the pitcher this team can depend on to get this job done.”
Bundy will look to remain the bright spot in a disappointing rotation over the second half of the season. The club tweaked the rotation around a late-June day off and this month’s All-Star break to give Bundy a bit more rest in between starts, and manager Buck Showalter said they’ll continue to do so when needed this year.
“I’ve got it mapped out into September,” Showalter said. “I know what I’d like to do the rest of the way. It’s something we planned since spring training, so we’ll see. We’re going to start this way, and he’ll pitch every fifth day for a while. But when the off-days come up, you may see a little change in it. We’ll see how he feels.”
He’ll likely top last year’s 109 2/3 innings in Tuesday’s start against the Texas Rangers — he’s at 108 through the break — and needs only 12 more starts for 30, which is a badge of reliability for a starting pitcher.
“I don't know how many I have left,” Bundy said. “I have a lot of work left to accomplish to fix some stuff, mechanically and pitch-wise, out there during the game. I’ve still got a lot of stuff to work on in the second half. Hopefully, it’ll all come together.”