Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy carried a perfect game into the sixth inning in just his third major league start Wednesday, but was undone by a pair of home runs that chased him and soured things late in a 3-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday at Camden Yards.
Bundy had retired the first 16 batters he faced before issuing a walk to first baseman Mark Reynolds, who scored when catcher Nick Hundley deposited a 1-2 changeup into the left-field seats. Two batters later, Bundy allowed a home run to Rockies rookie David Dahl on another change up— a towering shot to dead-center that represented Dahl’s first in the majors — and was lifted from the game.
“Just two mistakes, changeups that were up in the zone and they were able to tag them for homers,” Bundy said. “Maybe just a little more focus or location a little bit better in the sixth inning and you get out of that with six innings pitched and no harm done.”
The pitch has been the boon of Bundy’s starting experience through three turns in the rotation, but the home runs have been the bane of it. On Wednesday, those things intersected.
All seven runs he has allowed while in the rotation have been on five home runs. Bundy allowed just three home runs in 38 innings as a reliever.
Before Wednesday, just one of those home runs had come on a changeup, with the rest on his fastball. He went to that pitch often against the Rockies, throwing 24 after using his changeup 26 times in 87 pitches in his previous start.
In three starts, Bundy has thrown 257 total pitches and 65 changeups, a 25.3-percent usage rate. As a reliever, he used his changeup 18.8 percent of the time. He now has 14 of his 49 strikeouts on changeups, more than his vaunted curveball.
The Cleveland Indians credited him for using it in all counts and commanding it well Friday, and it was effective against the Rockies until he left them over the plate to Hundley and Dahl.
Bundy said the changeup, which he only learned in 2012 as a first-year pro in the Orioles minor leagues, is an important one for him to use a starter.
“Just getting it in the game earlier, getting them thinking about the changeup and the curveball as well,” he said, “it just makes my fastball play even better. But you’ve got to locate it. I can’t just throw it right down the middle.”
Bundy’s bid for perfection nearly ended in the first inning, when a belt-high fastball to standout Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado was crushed to the warning track in left field but caught for the final out.
Bundy rebounded as well as could be expected, striking out the heart of the Rockies order in the second inning. All three were swinging, and all three were on fastballs. His most impressive strikeout, however, came in the third inning, showing pitchability beyond his 23 years. Bundy lost a fastball up and in to Reynolds that sent the former Oriole to the deck, then front-doored a curveball for a called third strike.
All the rest of the strikeouts were of the swinging variety. He had a career-high eight strikeouts on the day, and scored 15 swinging strikes among his 89 pitches.
One batter before the sixth-inning walk to Reynolds, Bundy made a game-saving play on a dribbler up the third base line by left fielder Daniel Descalso, firing to first in time to keep the perfect game intact.
Bundy hadn’t pitched into the sixth inning all season, though, and that frame came to represent some of the challenges that will come with building him into a major league starter on the fly.
“Dylan was really good,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Solid. Got to get into another inning that he hadn't been into, got to throw a couple more pitches than he'd thrown. He was good. Just elevated a couple changeups. He was the reason we were in that game. Impressive.”
Bundy spent the first half of the season in the Orioles bullpen, and was unleashed as a starter two weeks ago at the Tampa Bay Rays in the third game out of the All-Star break. The first outing saw him give up three home runs and not pitch out of the fourth inning, but he allowed just an unearned run in five sterling innings Friday and took another step forward Wednesday.
Elbow and shoulder injuries limited him to 63 1/3 innings over the three seasons entering this one, and though he was on a starter's schedule for most of June and July out of the bullpen, he’d never thrown more than 87 pitches in the majors.
As such, Bundy’s innings and pitch counts will be monitored closely. Showalter says he considers the stress of getting up and warming up for a sixth time or seventh time as much as he does a strict pitch count in a given game, especially for pitchers who haven’t reached those thresholds.
Bundy didn’t show any outward signs of diminishing as the outing progressed, other than maybe overexerting and pulling a couple of fastballs early in the sixth. He’s not necessarily saving pitches for the second and third time through the order, instead featuring his curveball and changeup early, but he’s sequencing well enough that that hasn’t really been an issue.
With a couple more trips into the middle innings, Bundy could be able to avoid innings like Wednesday's sixth. He left Wednesday with a 3.46 ERA on the season, and a 4.50 ERA as a starter.
“I thought he had great stuff,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “I think the first five innings, he was locating his off-speed pitches, mixing and matching. I think the two changeups that got up, really I think it all came after the great play he made on the cue-ball down the line. Whether that took a little bit out of him or not, I don’t know. But he threw the ball great all night, and if he does that every time he goes out there he’s going to give us a great chance to win.”