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Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy pitches seven dominant innings on Opening Day

“I think just the mixing of the pitches,” Bundy said. “Me and Caleb [Joseph], we had a good game plan for the game and we were able to execute." (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)

Dylan Bundy didn’t have a great spring. He allowed five runs in three of his five Grapefruit League outings, and even though the Orioles’ steadiest starting pitcher last season deserved his first Opening Day assignment, it wasn’t until Bundy’s final spring start that he looked like he was ready for the regular season.

Bundy knew that going into a new season, the spotlight would be on the Orioles rotation, which had a major league-worst 5.70 ERA last season and was the prevailing reason for the team’s last-place division finish.

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Yes, the Orioles retooled the rotation, adding veterans Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb while re-signing Chris Tillman, making the team’s starting five look better on paper. But even then, the Orioles opened another season in the role of underdog, picked by most to finish at or near the bottom of the American League East standings.

If the Opening Day starter’s biggest role is to set the tone for a grueling 162-game season, Bundy did his job. Bundy, 25, delivered a gem on Opening Day, tossing seven scoreless innings in a 3-2 extra-inning win over the Minnesota Twins in front of an announced crowd of 45,469 at Camden Yards.

“Dylan was the key to the game,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Dylan was outstanding. He had been at six, so that was his first time with seven ups, so he maintained his stuff through the outing. That’s a tough lineup to go through for a right-handed pitcher.”

After a spring training in which Bundy was hit around and showed some uncharacteristic control problems, he was ready for Thursday’s opener, scattering five hits and walking one. No base runner reached third base against Bundy. It was a fine way to start 2018, his fourth career scoreless outing of at least seven innings.

“I think just the mixing of the pitches,” Bundy said. “Me and Caleb [Joseph], we had a good game plan for the game and we were able to execute. … The first inning, I was leaving some balls up. Got lucky on some loud outs there, obviously when he robbed that homer, that was a pretty impressive play right there.”

After some hard-hit balls in the first two innings, Bundy found his footing, mixing five pitches well, including the return of a two-seamer he didn’t use last season, his first as a full-time starter.

“I think was just leaving the ball out over the plate for them to get extended,” Bundy said. “I started mixing pitches, got the changeup in the game around the fourth inning.”

He struck out seven batters, all coming on his slider — a pitch that will become a game-changer for Bundy if he uses it the way he did Thursday.

In fact, Bundy dotted his slider to perfection when he needed it, including getting three swinging strikeouts on sliders out of the strike zone. Bundy induced 12 swings and misses with his slider on the day.

“It felt good today, especially after the first inning,” Bundy said of the pitch.

Bundy’s two-seamer, which was a part of his arsenal to limited success in 2016 but not last year, was also a productive pitch Thursday. Bundy used it high in the strike zone to tail away from left-handed hitters in a Twins lineup that included six batters hitting from the left side.

He received some help from his defense, a focal point of improvement for this year’s team, when right fielder Craig Gentry made a leaping catch to the left of the right-center field nook in the second, extending over the fence to catch Eddie Rosario’s likely home run.

Bundy also helped his own cause in the sixth inning when Rosario’s grounder to the right side skipped past first baseman Chris Davis. But neither Bundy nor second baseman Jonathan Schoop gave up on the play, as Schoop backed up Davis, scooping the ball on the outfield grass and throwing to Bundy covering first base in time to get Rosario.

Bundy, who threw just 88 pitches, ended strong, striking out Logan Morrison swinging on a slider to open the seventh. After a bloop single by Eduardo Escobar, Bundy induced a weak popup to shortstop from Max Kepler and then walked off the mound to a loud ovation after striking out Byron Buxton on a slider to end the inning.

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Bundy threw just 12 of 26 first-pitch strikes but still managed to get ahead in the count and didn’t fall into too many deep counts.

“He worked ahead,” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. “If you ask any pitcher, if they work ahead, they'll do pretty good.”

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