For 10 weeks, the Frederick Keys were Dylan Bundy's stewards. The Orioles' High-A affiliate was charged with bringing along the 19-year-old's arm and delivering him to Double-A Bowie in better shape than he arrived, a transaction that is expected to be made with all stipulations met before Game 1 of the Baysox's doubleheader Tuesday.
The Orioles invested more in Bundy than they have in any other pitcher, and the right-hander came to Frederick in late May after posting utterly goofy numbers during his stint in Low-A Delmarva (30 innings, no earned runs, five hits, and 40 strikeouts in eight starts) with one developmental goal in mind: developing secondary pitches.
Bundy's explosive mid-90s fastball, which has topped out at 98 mph, was more than enough for him to carry him this far. To make it at the highest level — which Bundy thinks he could do right now if called upon — his off-speed pitches need to be refined to the point where Bundy is comfortable using them in games.
But what's best for Dylan Bundy and the Orioles organization is not always best for his team. Developing pitches means throwing them in game situations, which have real-life consequences. Balancing Dylan Bundy, the Frederick Key, and Dylan Bundy, the future front-line major league starter, has been difficult at times.
"You go out there one game and all you need is your fastball, and maybe a curveball for a strikeout, and they want you to throw changeups," Bundy, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 draft, said last month. "Well, it's hard for a 19-year-old kid to go out there and do what they want when you're just trying to go out there and get good results and compete and help your team win a ballgame. That's the only hard part about it."
"He wants to win, and he feels like when he has the ball, our team is supposed to win because he's the dominant pitcher that he is," Frederick catcher Joe Oliveira said after Bundy's most recent start Wednesday night. "He's a competitive guy … and he wants to throw the pitches that are going to get him out of the inning, so you kind of have to force him to throw everything."
Earlier in the year, when his outings were shorter, Bundy said he was better at mixing in his off-speed when asked. There was a time when he said he was simply throwing what he thought would work, refusing to use a changeup in counts when he wasn't comfortable.
"You throw a changeup to a guy that late on two fastballs, all he's going to do is hit it down the line," Bundy said. "I don't want to get started …"
Oliveira, who caught eight of Bundy's 11 Frederick starts, said getting Bundy to throw all of his pitches made his job fun, even with the pushback.
"He can get by with just throwing all fastballs, so you kind of have to force him to throw his off-speed stuff," he said. "There's been talks with me, we talk with all the pitching coaches about spots to throw his stuff, making sure we're throwing it and he's using it."
Frederick pitching coach Blaine Beatty said his own career with the New York Mets in the 1990s was derailed by the fact that he put up good numbers, but wasn't developing the pitches that would have kept him in the majors past the two short stints he had.
"We want to develop these pitches, because if you let him go out and develop everything he wants and throw up good numbers, we're not really developing the pitches," Beatty said. "He knows and understands it. It's not always easy for a young guy, because he knows, 'I can be pitching better at this point than what I am,' but it's about the development."
During his time in Frederick, Oliveira said Bundy's curveball, a 12-to-5 offering that he can get over for strikes or bury late in the count, has become much sharper, and he's been able to throw his changeup for strikes.
In his Carolina League final outing, Bundy went 5 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits while striking out seven and walking two. During the first time through the lineup, Lynchburg — which a week earlier was on the wrong end of Bundy's best outing of the season (6 2/3 innings, two hits, one run, eight strikeouts) and has seen him four times in two months — had Bundy timed well. The Hillcats teed off on his fastball, which he threw almost exclusively early in the game.
Bundy got through the first inning in order, but the first four batters of the second reached on stinging line drives. From there, Bundy showed the Hillcats a better pith mix, and after a two-run home run in the third on a fastball that caught too much of the plate, Bundy buckled down to strike out six of the last 10 batters he faced.
During his final innings in High-A, Bundy showed a pitchability he lacked in earlier starts. After being burned on the fastball early, Beatty told him that he hadn't established himself inside as well as he needed to. Oliviera began setting up four inches off the inside edge, and once Bundy established his fastball inside, his breaking pitches became more effective.
His curveball showed depth, and though the changeup was inconsistent, he showed a commitment to throwing it, especially late in the count. During his fabled long-toss sessions, Bundy said he throws the changeup from as far as 150 feet in an effort to maintain his arm speed while slowing down the pitch.
If Bundy sticks with the plan in developing those pitches as he progresses through the minors, Beatty said he'll arrive in the majors with "a really good changeup — and he's going to know how to use it — and have a really good curveball." And that's to say nothing of the cut fastball that Bundy used in high school but has not thrown this year.
After he got the news Wednesday night of his promotion, Bundy stood outside the gates at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick with a few families, accepting congratulations and posing for pictures with young children.
Outside a stadium that becomes an open-air autograph market for three hours a night each summer, the team's star attraction began to close out the most sizable portion of this, the first volume of Dylan Bundy's professional baseball story.
"Bye bye, Dylan," a young boy said. Dylan was leaving soon, one step closer to The Show.
Dylan Bundy in Bowie
Baysox opponent: Erie SeaWolves
Time: Doubleheader begins at 6:05 p.m. (Bundy is expected to pitch the first game of the doubleheader)
Location: Prince George's Stadium
Bundy at Frederick: 6-3, 54 1/3 IP, 2.98 ERA (20 R, 18 ER), 48 H, 63 K, 17 BB
Bundy at Delmarva: 1-0, 30 IP, 0.00 ERA (2 R, 0 ER), 5 H, 40 K, 2 BB