For the first time since March of last year, Orioles top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy on Tuesday will throw to a live batter at the team’s spring training complex in Sarasota, Fla.
It’s a major step for the 21-year-old in his recovery from Tommy John surgery last June. He remembers the exact date he last pitched to a hitter -- March 23, 2013, in minor league camp -- before soreness in a flexor mass sidelined him and eventually led to surgery.
“Ever since I’ve been throwing, I’ve seen the light, finally being able to throw again, you know,” Bundy said last week in Sarasota. “My job is to be a starting pitcher, so just being able to start my throwing program four months ago was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m getting anxious now being able to throw to live batters again.”
Bundy is coming off a pair of 50-pitch bullpen sessions in which he has used his entire repertoire. His final step was adding curveballs, and he has done that since April 23.
“I’m not throwing it as hard as if I was in a game,” Bundy said. “I’m taking it easy. I don’t want to rush it too quick and snap off some hammers like that yet. I’m just going to let it build up and it will progress. ... I’ve let a few go pretty hard, but I’d say I’m averaging 90-95 percent. I’m not letting it go completely yet. I was waiting until I’m in a game for when I need it.”
Last week, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that Bundy could be throwing in a game within two weeks. Bundy wouldn’t go that far, saying he just looking as far ahead as Tuesday.
It’s been a long tedious process for Bundy, who was the No. 4 overall pick in 2011 and was the No. 2 prospect in the game before making his major league debut in September 2012 as a late-season call-up. He feels like he’s getting closer to being back to where he was then.
“[There’s] the consistency of my arm, the way it feels,” Bundy said. “The first three, four months of the throwing program, you’d have one good day of the week when your arm felt loose and the other days it would just kind of feel tight, not hurt or pain, it would just feel tight. Now, I’ll throw four or five bullpens in a row when it feels good and then have one day where it’s a little tight. No pain so far and I’m thankful for that."
Bundy still knows he has plenty of hurdles in front of him. But the competition of facing hitters is the next step. Then he’d likely build into simulated games and extended spring training games before joining a minor league affiliate.
“I can throw 80-pitch bullpens if I want, but it’s not the same as throwing 40 pitches in a game,” Bundy said. “It’s completely different. Your adrenaline’s going. You’re facing batters. You’re stressed out. Probably throwing to live batters in competitive games again. We’ll see how that goes.”
So when does Bundy believe he will be ready to pitch in real games?
“The surgery was June 27,” Bundy said. “If I’m back by June 27, I’ll be plenty happy. [The Orioles] don’t want to rush it, and neither do I."