SARASOTA, Fla — If anything, there were only whispers. Nothing damning, nothing loud.
No one within the Orioles organization wanted to show real concern, not in March, not with the blessed right arm of their future, 20-year-old Dylan Bundy.
But after Bundy's performance Saturday against the Boston Red Sox — one in which the universally regarded top pitching prospect in baseball managed only 18 strikes in 35 pitches and consistently threw his mid-to-high 90s fastball at 91-to-93 mph — there was some quiet consternation.
When asked about the noticeable dip in velocity, the unafraid Bundy didn't shy away, not Saturday night and not before his outing Thursday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays.
"It does [bother me] a little bit, but I guess as long as you're getting people out," Bundy said Thursday morning. "But of course I still want to throw hard like I did six months ago."
Bundy, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft, entered Thursday's game at Ed Smith Stadium in the seventh inning. His first fastball was clocked at 94 mph. His third was at 95; his fifth at 97 mph, the only time he reached that high in his three-inning stint. By his final inning, Bundy's fastball was consistently at 92 to 93 mph — but he had already shown that he could dial it up if needed.
And a fan base breathed again. Even the super-intense Bundy acknowledged a small victory.
"I wouldn't say it is relief, but it is nice to see something like that [does] go up a little bit when I am working on things," Bundy said. "For that reason, it is nice."
From late February to Saturday, Bundy had gone nine days in between outings because he had a slight groin issue and the Orioles wanted to proceed carefully. Some observers believed his lack of command was due to that layoff. In fact, his wildest performance in high school came after a nine-day layoff. It was also theorized that perhaps the groin was still bothering him, something he vehemently denied.
Regardless, in his one year as a pro, from Low-A ball all the way to the majors in September, Bundy allowed just 29 walks in 105 1/3 innings. On Saturday, he threw nearly as many balls as strikes. And that, too, raised eyebrows.
On Thursday, pitching on four days of rest, the ratio was better: 31 of his 53 pitches were strikes. He allowed two hits, one run and walked two for the second consecutive outing, but he consistently located his fastball and changeup. He retired six of the first seven batters he faced before allowing a double to fellow top prospect, Rays' outfielder Wil Myers, who eventually scored the winning run in Tampa Bay's 4-3 victory. Bundy was tagged with the loss.
"It's never up to my standards, I didn't like those [two] walks, you know?" Bundy said. "Command is not there right now. I'm trying to tinker with some stuff right now. It'll be there."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter dismissed worries about Bundy's velocity. He didn't harp on a lack of command, either. Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair don't feel an immediate need to address those things. Adair will make some minor adjustments with Bundy, but nothing major.
"What [Bundy] considers a little failure, whether it's command or velocity, is something you keep in your holster," Showalter said. "So when it comes time, you're ready."
What the Orioles organization has stressed, however — for Bundy and all of its pitchers — is the time it takes to deliver a pitch. Showalter feels it's imperative for pitchers to be in the 1.25 second range to give catchers a chance to throw out baserunners.
"I remember meeting with the pitchers last year and I did it this year. Why would you not take advantage of a great commodity like Matt Wieters' throwing?" Showalter said. "You give him a chance, he's going to throw [potential basestealers] out."
Bundy said speeding up his delivery is something he has worked on since the middle of last year, when he was in the 1.5- to 1.6-second range. On Thursday, one major league scout had him clocked at 1.33 and 1.35. So obviously he is improving a skill he didn't really need in the past.
"Let's face it," Showalter said, "He didn't have a whole lot of baserunners [against him in the minors] or a lot of guys that can run. You have multiple guys at this level that can run well."
Bundy has increased his speed to the plate, but in doing that he believes his mechanics got out of whack. That's what he and Adair are working on — and that's why he thinks his pitches weren't as crisp or sharp so far this spring.
"So I finally got it down a little bit now," Bundy said of his time to the plate. "I've just got to figure out my command being that quick to home."
The major league scout, who watched Thursday and also saw Bundy dominate Low-A South Atlantic League hitters last May, picked up on the slight change in delivery immediately.
"He has got good stuff, he was just a little bit flat up in the strike zone because he was rushing things and was falling off the mound a little more than I've seen," the scout said. "He is going to be fine. I don't think it's an injury issue. I don't think it's an issue at all. I just think he looked like he was trying to throw as hard as he could [Thursday], trying to throw 100 mph and its early in spring and his delivery is not quite as crisp as I saw last year."
Bundy is expected to be sent down — probably to Double-A Bowie — before the Orioles break for the regular season. But Showalter said he'd like Bundy and the club's 2012 first rounder, right-hander Kevin Gausman, to stick around for a little while longer.
"They keep getting feedback and filing information away. What they get is invaluable," Showalter said.
The oldest Oriole in camp, veteran reliever Mark Hendrickson, said one of the things Bundy will have to learn is to deal with the scrutiny that inevitably comes when he has a rough outing or two and must answer questions about it.
"I think the difficult thing is having media constantly talking about things that he may be talking about over and over and over. And that's probably the biggest challenge versus just coming in to play baseball," Hendrickson said. "What happens when you have a bad outing or a couple bad outings? Then the media is constantly asking you questions five days later. Somebody's doing a story and you are kind of reliving it. That's probably going to be his biggest challenge."
Bundy has had a taste of that this month. He had a blip of a struggle, which came with the inevitable whispers. He knows he'll have to deal with those situations — and with more tangible failure — as he progresses as a pitcher.
"It ain't easy, but you learn from it," Bundy said. "That's how you get up and over things, you just have to fail some to succeed like that."