Orioles' Dylan Bundy struggling to find his old self amid late-season slump

As Orioles pitcher Dylan Bundy tries to salvage his season, he’s studied video and worked on his mechanics, but still finds himself struggling to find his old form.

“It ain’t fun, that’s for sure,” Bundy said Monday in Toronto. “But you’ve just got to keep going out there and try to get better I guess. … Mechanically everything is the same since the beginning of the season, and for the most part, everything looks the same on video. So you just go out there and try to keep the ball down and hit the glove.”

But Bundy clearly knows there’s something he needs to fix. In his seven starts since returning from an ankle injury he suffered running the bases in a June 23 start against the Washington Nationals, he has an 8.33 ERA and opponents are hitting .327 off him. He’s also allowed 12 homers in 35 2/3 innings over that stretch, and no pitcher has allowed more home runs than the 30 Bundy has yielded over 23 starts this season.

A season that began in a promising way — Bundy had a 1.42 ERA through his first five starts and 11 quality starts in his first 16 outings — has fallen off track in an ugly way.

Entering his start Tuesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, Bundy has allowed seven earned runs in back-to-back starts, two outings that were different but yielded the same result.

In an Aug. 10 start against the Boston Red Sox, Bundy was hindered by four walks and two home runs on a night he struggled to find the plate. In his most recent start Wednesday against the New York Mets, he didn’t issue a walk but allowed 11 hits. He failed to get out of the sixth inning in both games, and the results were two of the Orioles’ worst losses this season.

“Command is more than just throwing a strike,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s commanding the strike zone. You can tell it after an inning or two whether Dylan is carrying it. Most of the time, he is. He had a semi-stint here where he hasn’t.”

Bundy, 25, is looking for answers, and said he will continue to experiment until he finds a solution, whether that’s a slight mechanical tweak or working on his pitch sequencing.

“There’s tons of things out there that could be the answer. You’ve just got to test things out and try to figure out which one it is to help you get better,” Bundy said. “Just commanding the baseball for the most part and throwing every single pitch where you want to and just mixing speeds on guys, and that’s the recipe for success. You’ve just got to do it.

“There’s tons of issues that can come up during the course of a season. But yeah, there can be little bitty things that you don’t even see and then you can go back on video and see them in video when you look at two side by side. There’s little bitty tweaks here and there. It’s not like you’re changing everything — a new leg kick, a new windup — it’s nothing like that. I’m just making itty bitty adjustments that hopefully allows you to get the ball where you need to.”

Overall this season, Bundy has become more reliant with his fastball than ever, throwing it about 56.4 percent of the time, spiking from 53.8 from last year. That correlates with reduced usage of his changeup (13.7 percent to 9.5) and curveball (10.4 to 8.4).

But the biggest difference in his pitch usage is the lack of effectiveness with his curveball and changeup. Opposing hitters are batting .333 off the changeup, after hitting .229 against it last season. Opponents hit just .167 against Bundy’s curveball last season, but that has gone up dramatically to .423.

“Yeah, we’ve looked at it a few times,” Bundy said. “I could have thrown the curveball more, but the curveball’s got to be there to throw it. Some games you have it and some games you don’t. The main thing is the changeup and trying to work on getting that more consistent, as consistent as it was in the past, throwing it for strikes and getting weak contact.”

Last year, Bundy had one of his best months of the season in August, going 4-0 with a 2.00 ERA and a .177 opposing hitters’ average. Despite the reversal this month, Bundy has maintained he’s healthy.

“He’s always a start [away] from getting back into the groove,” Showalter said. “I know he’s frustrated with it. I know it doesn’t always show in just pure walk totals. You can’t be wild in the strike zone either. If you hang a curveball that’s a strike, it’s going to end up where they end up.”

Even when Bundy started off the season well, he was prone to the occasional short start — he allowed four homers without recording an out May 8 against the Kansas City Royals to end a three-start stretch when he allowed 22 earned runs over nine innings — but he’s always rebounded.

“I think you’re just always trying to get better. I think that’s every pitcher’s goal in this league. Small adjustments, tweaks here and there, and even when you’re going good, there’s more adjustments to stay good,” Bundy said. “And when you are going through those bad times, you’ve got to try to get out of them and limit how long they are.

“But for the season, you just want to compete and win ballgames as much as you can and get better for next year, which means commanding the baseball. Just continuing to work and try to get results.”

eencina@baltsun.com

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