Boston — The pitchers manager Buck Showalter used as examples for Monday's night's challenge facing his 23-year-old emerging star, Dylan Bundy, have been doing it for a lot longer and do it more often.
Yet the possibility of an elite performance requires elite company, and Bundy strongly hinted at that Monday with seven-plus innings against a Boston Red Sox lineup he was facing for the third time in 20 days. The result was a 5-2 victory for the first-place Orioles.
"In our division, the way things go, there are no secrets," Showalter said before the game. "The way videotape is — heck, we watch guys' rehab starts in Potomac, you know? … At this level, everybody knows what [Boston starter and reigning Cy Young Award winner Rick] Porcello is going to do. They know what [longtime Yankees ace CC] Sabathia is going to do, and they continue to do it if they get in the right place and the right sequence, they'll have some success. If they don't, they'll pay the price. I can't really say anybody does [have the advantage], but we'll find out."
In a season full of benchmarks for the Orioles' emerging young star, how he established the advantage in his favor Monday was perhaps the most impressive part of it.
With Monday's win, Bundy improved to 4-1 with six quality starts in six chances, and was hard done by to see his ERA creep up from 1.65 to 1.82. And most of that has come at Boston's expense — the more they see him, the less they can do against him.
How Bundy approached them Monday, though, was informed by what worked and what didn't earlier this year.
He had pitched two different games against Boston, stylistically. In the first, on April 11 here at Fenway Park, he was able to keep the Red Sox off balance by using his fastball just over one out of every three pitches (37.8 percent) and using his slider (23.6 percent) and changeup (24.5 percent) almost equally, according to data from Brooks Baseball.
He allowed three runs on seven hits in taking his only loss of the season, so next time out, he adjusted.
On April 21 at Camden Yards, it was his fastball that carried him through seven shutout innings. Over half of his 108 pitches (50.9 percent) were fastballs, while his changeup, curveball and slider were each thrown a third of the rest of the time. The result was seven innings of shutout ball.
So faced with the same opponent for a third time in 20 days, Bundy had a blueprint and followed it even more strictly. Boston couldn't do much with his fastball last time, so throw it more often this time. A lot more often.
His fastball percentage climbed again Monday, as he threw 67 of his 111 pitches that way (60.3 percent) and had another equal split of the remaining 44 pitches among his slider and changeup (15 apiece) and curveball (14).
Bundy said a lot of Monday's success was owed to his two-seam fastball, which he hasn't thrown often this year but had working on this night.
"I liked the two-seamer tonight," Bundy said. "It was moving, it was actually moving this time, so me and [catcher] Caleb [Joseph] were throwing a lot more two-seams, and then four-seamers in to lefties tonight."
"He had a really nice one," Joseph said. "He had a lot of zip, a lot of late life on his heater. I don't think we used the slider as much, and that's a good thing for us, that he can get outs with his curveball, fastball and changeup as well. it was really fun to catch. It's been a while since I caught him, and man, that fastball gets on you."
It only really began to fail him when, with the comfort of a 5-0 lead in the eighth inning, Showalter sent Bundy out and watched things get interesting. After a leadoff double by No. 9 hitter Marco Hernandez, an innocent pop-up in left field fell in when shortstop J.J. Hardy bailed out at the last minute. Hernandez scored on a single that chased Bundy, and a second run came in after he left the game.
That fastball-heavy strategy is one that worked well last year for Bundy once he joined the rotation, though those Red Sox were also among the fiercest fastball-hitting teams and tagged him for eight runs in 10 1/3 innings over two consecutive starts in September.
But this is a different version of Bundy, one with a useful slider for right-handed hitters to honor and the confidence to throw his fastball early and often — even if the velocity is diminished. The results have shown that.
"He's got a lot of things in his repertoire," Showalter said. "He's learned that more is not better. When you go through some of the things he went through physically, he developed a really good changeup out of it and he knows there's not going to be every night where he can just sit there. I don't even look at him as overpowering unless he needs to. He'll go up the ladder when he needs to."