CLEARWATER, FLA. — Even though Dylan Bundy is only 25 years old, his first big league spring training was six years ago, in 2012. Despite a litany of injuries, he’s pitched in 24 Grapefruit League games over his career. He’s been around long enough to realize you don’t put too much stock in any one outing.
Bundy, the Orioles’ most consistent returning starter from last season, made his spring training debut Saturday afternoon in the team’s split-squad road game against the Philadelphia Phillies, a 9-6 loss at Spectrum Field.
And while the result was ugly — he allowed five runs, including a grand slam to Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro, and needed 49 pitches to get through two innings — Bundy didn’t get caught up in the scoreboard.
“Not the scoreboard — I don’t care too much about that right now,” Bundy said. “Later in the spring, absolutely. But three walks, I felt like — I wasn’t nibbling, but I was missing just off the plate and my misses were terrible. Two sliders high and those were probably the only two pitches I’d take back. I was happy with all the pitches, the movements, stuff like that. It was fine.”
As manager Buck Showalter noted after the game, Alfaro’s slam carried in the wind, and some borderline pitches that were called balls didn’t miss by much.
“You had a wind-blown home run,” Showalter said. “You’ve got about five strikes that were called balls. He was good, right where he needs to be. It was good to see. Arm strength was good.”
Perhaps the most important piece of information about Bundy’s first outing was that he felt good physically. His curveball and changeup felt good coming out of his hand and his fastball You had a wind-blown home run. You’ve got about five strikes that were called balls. He was good, right where he needs to be. It was good to see. Arm strength was good.velocity was good, regularly hitting 92-94 mph and peaking at 95 on the stadium radar gun.
“Perfect,” he said when told of his radar gun readings. “I’ve just got to locate now.”
Bundy issued two of his three walks in a five-run second inning, but he also wasn’t helped by his defense. After J.P. Crawford reached on a leadoff single, he moved to second on a ball that got by catcher Chance Sisco for a passed ball. Former Oriole Ryan Flaherty then hit a potential double-play ball to first baseman Chris Davis, but Rubén Tejada’s throw back to first on the turn pulled Bundy off the bag. No. 9 hitter Roman Quinn then reached on a slow roller to Davis that ended up being an infield single.
Three batters later, after Bundy issued a walk to Rhys Hoskins to load the bases, he fell behind Alfaro 3-0, then threw a 91 mph fastball low and in that Alfaro sent into the bullpens beyond the left-field fence.
“Felt great. The ball was coming out of the hand good,” Bundy said. “I felt great with the curveball and the changeup today, and that’s what I was really wanting to work on. The slider, I didn’t have a feel for it today. I was leaving it up. Just missing today, just off the plate a tad. And that’s part of it, part of getting back into the routine of things and getting back on the mound facing live hitters again.
“Even early in the count, I was missing just two or three inches off the plate or down. Not too much of a concern, I think. Just have to get ahead in the count. It’s hard to get anybody out when you’re behind in the count all the time. Just keep working on stuff in the bullpens in between starts and try to get more comfortable out there.”
Even though Bundy is a spring training veteran, he said the first spring training start of the season is always a difficult one because you’re adjusting to facing live hitters in a game situation for the first time after 1½ weeks of workouts.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a weird feeling,” Bundy said. “This year, it’s kind of like your debut over again, but it’s a spring debut instead of an Opening Day debut or any game. After four months of not being in live competition like that, it’s a little different. You’ve got to get used to it. But it felt great to get back out there and compete again and be on the mound again.”
“There’s a different intensity with the lights,” Showalter said before Saturday’s game, of evaluating a pitcher’s first spring training start. “This is a little step up mostly because the other team is wearing different uniforms. I’m going to be surprised if I don’t see — regardless of what the stats say — a very professional [outing]. He’s going to get his work in and knows where the finish line is. I haven’t seen anything in the spring that [indicated otherwise].”
Bundy’s rocky debut shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Last year, he had a 7.41 ERA in Grapefruit League games and had two outings in which he allowed five runs, but he turned in a solid season in his first year as a full-time major league starter. Bundy went 13-9 with a 4.24 ERA in 28 starts in 2017, pitching 169 2/3 innings.
The next step for Bundy is reaching the 200-inning mark, a benchmark that both the club and the right-hander have set for 2018.
“In a lot of ways, it’s maintaining what he did last year and do it over a longer period,” Showalter said. “Dylan has the potential to be a 200-inning guy. That would probably be the next progression. Dylan really takes a lot of pride in being somebody who someone can count on. … He’s got the chance to be a really consistent pitcher because he’s been really consistent in the way we approaches everything.”