Dylan Bundy's home run problems last year were all his own. This year, they fit alarmingly well with the rest of the Orioles' pitching staff, and Thursday's 8-5 loss to the Oakland Athletics to make it six defeats in the season's first homestand only solidified that.
Bundy, something of a day-game savant in recent years, had the wipeout stuff that could have made Thursday fit a different trend. But he allowed four home runs — a fourth-inning blast by Khris Davis, a two-run home run in the fifth by No. 9 hitter Josh Phegley and back-to-back home runs to Davis and Kendrys Morales to chase him in the sixth.
His four home runs allowed — after the two he gave up Saturday against the New York Yankees — and a fifth Thursday off reliever Mychal Givens made it 28 home runs surrendered by Orioles pitchers on this homestand alone, and 37 through 13 games this season. Entering Thursday night, that marked 14 more than any other major league team.
“I haven't seen this many in a short amount of time,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “But I think we just continue to stay behind our guys, continue to improve, and try to get better, and continue to try to pitch to a plan and work on our location and work on being unpredictable. I thought Dylan was unpredictable today. I thought he had four pitches he could throw at any time for strikes, which was fantastic. He just left a few balls in the wrong spot.”
At least early, it didn't look as if it would be that way. Bundy didn't give up a hit until the fourth inning, and by that point had struck out five Oakland batters with his slider working and his fastball staying out of the bad part of the plate.
He finished with eight strikeouts and didn't walk a batter. But four of his seven hits allowed were home runs, including the last two, and Bundy is left to reckon with an 8.76 ERA in an ineffective first three starts to begin the season.
“I thought this was Dylan's best start, but I thought he had really good stuff, two good breaking balls, a really good changeup, had more hop on his fastball,” Hyde said. “Just the long ball. … I thought his changeup was really good, and kept guys off-balance. Just a few mistakes, and they just didn't hit singles. They went deep.”
Said Bundy: “For the most part, I'd say the first three innings were good stuff. Slider, split, heater — they were all great the first three innings, then the fourth and fifth, kind of got a little sloppy there, and the sixth. I think the stuff just kind of flattened out, and I wasn't staying on top of the pitches. Four bad pitches and six runs.”
Asked how he could curb the home run problem that led to a league-high 41 allowed last year and six so far in 2019, Bundy said he could “not throw pitches right down the middle.”
It’s not just his problem. The home runs have quite simply made it difficult for the Orioles to maintain their winning start to the season. On Thursday, the home runs erased an early lead built on Dwight Smith Jr.'s first home run of the season. They made the Orioles’ four-run rally in the seventh inning a little hollow.
And after a fifth home run of the day — by Marcus Semien against Givens — the A’s (9-8) sent the Orioles (5-8) back on the road having lost seven of eight, with a four-game wraparound series against the struggling World Series champion Boston Red Sox and three games at the American League East front-running Tampa Bay Rays up next.
How about a rally?
Trailing 7-1 in the seventh inning, the Orioles at least made it interesting with a four-run inning built incrementally, as most of their scoring has been this season. It began with a walk by Rio Ruiz and a single from Renato Núñez that center fielder Ramón Laureano lost in the sun.
Chris Davis walked to load the bases, and runs scored when Pedro Severino was hit by a pitch; Lou Trivino threw a wild pitch past Cedric Mullins; Mullins grounded out to first base; and Smith doubled to right field.
It could have been more, but right fielder Stephen Piscotty dove to catch a liner from Jonathan Villar to end the inning. The Orioles got two on and the tying run to the plate in the form of Davis in the eighth, but he struck out and Jesús Sucre lined out.
A better bullpen
The Orioles bullpen held the line in a way it hasn’t this homestand, with newcomer Josh Lucas charged with an unearned run in two innings of relief of Bundy. His fellow Triple-A Norfolk addition, left-hander Tanner Scott, allowed two hits on his first two pitches before recording a strikeout and giving way to Jimmy Yacabonis, who allowed neither run to score.
Givens struck out two around the home run by Semien.