The most important admirers that Dylan Bundy has won over are the fielders behind him, who know from his strong start to the season that the budding Orioles right-hander will work quickly, throw strikes and allow them to make plays behind him.
A big part of the 24-year-old's evolution this season has been the former fireballer's tactical way of pitching. When he's nearing trouble, he's found a way to get out of it, and he's done that by not being afraid of drawing contact.
And going against one of the game's top pitchers this season on Tuesday night in Minnesota Twins right-hander Ervin Santana, Bundy knew he'd have to limit the damage.
He did his part in the Orioles' 2-0 loss at Camden Yards, and while Santana was better, throwing a 105-pitch two-hitter and sending the Orioles to their ninth loss in the past 12 contests, the game offered another glimpse of how much Bundy has grown.
First, he was able to rebound from his worst start of the season Thursday in Detroit, recording his ninth quality start in 10 outings this year while offering a gritty performance in which he went seven strong innings – matching his longest start of the season – while holding a dangerous lineup to two runs on six hits.
"The way he's been throwing the ball, you expect him to get out of [trouble]," shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "He's been throwing the ball really well. He's been working quick and hitters aren't taking a whole lot of good swings, so it's really nice to play behind. The fact that they're not taking good swings, so when they put the ball in play it's kind of weak, and that he's working fast."
Leaning mainly on fastballs, sliders and curveballs, Bundy struck out seven, four on his slider. He induced eight swinging strikes with that pitch. But he also was effective drawing strikes with his fastball and curve, with each of those resulting in nine called strikes.
Despite laboring through a 20-pitch second inning and a 26-pitch fifth, Bundy still managed to go seven innings for the fourth time this season.
"Dylan was really good," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "There's a certain rhythm to the defense when you're pitching like that. … There's a tempo and something you always stress with your pitchers. Those plays seem to be made behind guys with that type of tempo and throwing strikes. But Dylan was really good."
In the second inning, Bundy benefited from two nice plays from Welington Castillo, who made a sliding catch on Brian Dozier's pop-up bunt behind the plate, then threw out speedster Byron Buxton attempting to steal second base.
"I try to get them to hit it to our guys so they can get us outs, I guess," Bundy said. "I think luck plays a big part of it, hitting balls right to our defense and them making plays for me. Like Wely did tonight [in the third]. That was pretty neat what he was doing that inning."
Bundy was mostly effective Tuesday because of his ability to lock down the Twins with runners in scoring position, which has been a constant throughout Bundy's building a track record of success.
The Twins were just 1-for-7 against Bundy with runners in scoring position, and that one hit – Byron Buxton's RBI single with two on and no outs in the fifth – was more a byproduct of the leadoff walk Bundy issued that inning.
In the fourth, Bundy allowed a two-out double to right fielder Max Kepler, but induced and inning-ending flyout from Kennys Vargas. The sixth inning went similarly. After striking out Miguel Sano and Kepler to open the inning, Vargas doubled, but Bundy drew a flyout out from Jorge Polanco to end that inning.
In the seventh, Bundy yielded a two-out solo homer to left field to second baseman Brian Dozier on a four-seamer that ran across the middle of the plate.
But overall, Bundy kept the Twins in check. Even after he allowed the first three batters he faced to reach in the fifth and fell behind on Buxton's run-scoring single, Bundy recovered by retiring the next three batters – ending the inning with a strikeout of Joe Mauer on four pitches to strand runners at the corners and keep the score 1-0.
This season, Bundy has held opponents to a .198 average with runners in scoring position. Opponents are just 1-for-17 against him with runners in scoring position and two outs in the inning.
"There's a couple outs there that some people aren't getting," Showalter said. "The strikeout of Mauer there to keep it at one, pitching that seventh inning. Even the sixth, he got through it and had some manageable pitch counts. He found some things that worked. Sano, you see the RBIs, and he pitched him as well as he can be pitched and he's on top of his game, too, offensively. Pitcher's on top of his game, hitters on top of their games, the pitcher wins most times."