In between the veterans playing out their cushy contracts and the ever-growing mass of unproven players the Orioles are giving a chance to play over the last few months of this lost season, there’s Dylan Bundy.
The one-time top draft pick and top prospect has been a fixture in the Orioles rotation and has delivered stretches of dominance since joining the rotation two seasons ago. Simply put, he’s too good to pitch this badly.
Bundy was responsible for most of the Orioles’ big early deficit in a 16-5 loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday night at Camden Yards, allowing seven runs on 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings before turning the game over to the bullpen and watching it get out of reach.
“It’s an extended period that he hasn't pitched like we know Dylan can,” manager Buck Showalter said. “So, it's frustrating for him. You can see it. He gets into a sequence when he's got the right pitch to throw and he can't get it where he needs to, and now the count gets to where he has to give in, somewhat. And he hasn't carried that three-pitch mix in a while.”
Bundy has allowed five earned runs or more in five of his past seven starts, a span in which he has an 8.33 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP, causing his season ERA to jump almost a full run from 4.03 to 4.99. The beginning of this run coincided with a return from the disabled list with a sprained ankle.
“We know what Dylan is capable of,” Showalter said. “He just hasn't been able to get there. Really, it's been off and on since the leg injury. He's just not able to carry into the game that consistency that Dylan has shown us.”
He trailed almost the second the game began Wednesday. Brandon Nimmo hit a leadoff single, went to third on a single by Jeff McNeil and scored on a sacrifice fly. Todd Frazier singled to score McNeil, and the Orioles had a deficit they’d never overcome.
They certainly threatened, with Adam Jones singling to score leadoff man Jonathan Villar in the first inning, but the rest of the damage was done by the Mets.
“Usually, you think Dylan gets through the first inning and he’s just going to step on it and get going there,” Showalter said.
Bundy had a quick second inning and battled through the third to strand a pair of runners, but veterans Austin Jackson and José Reyes each tripled and scored in the fourth and Frazier hit a solo home run — the league-high 28th that Bundy has allowed this season — to put the Orioles down 5-1.
The sixth inning began with Bundy’s fifth strikeout on a slider in the dirt to José Bautista, but he hit catcher Kevin Plawecki, allowed a double to deep center field that Cedric Mullins couldn’t secure before he crashed into the wall, and was pulled for Tanner Scott.
Bundy said after the game that he wasn’t dealing with any kind of physical issue and that he didn’t see a through line between his preceding struggles and Wednesday.
“I feel fine,” he said. “I made some good pitches tonight and they were just able to find some holes out there. I left a few pitches up in the zone, and they were able to get me.”
Having watched video of his performance after he left the game, Bundy said “most of [the pitches] were right where I wanted them to go.”
Scott allowed a triple past an ill-advised dive by Trey Mancini in left field to cash in both of Bundy’s runs, and he and Evan Phillips combined to walk four in the inning before Plawecki hit a grand slam to end Phillips’ evening and cast the die on a nine-run sixth.
It was an inning reminiscent of the last time Bundy pitched, when he left in the sixth and saw the bullpen — that time featuring Donnie Hart and Miguel Castro — come in and finish an inning that featured five walks and six runs.
This time, four Orioles pitchers combined to walk four, hit a batter and allow four extra-base hits.
That a cavalcade of young relievers came in and struggled is to be expected where the Orioles’ roster is concerned; what’s not is for Bundy to be in such a funk. He’s had them before, including in September 2016 as he dealt with the strain of his first full season pitching as a professional, and an eight-start stretch last June and July in which he allowed 10 home runs with a 7.85 ERA.
This stretch comes, fortunately for the Orioles, at a time when the stakes are much lower. When Bundy hit these rough patches before, the prescription was always rest. But the Orioles also need to build up the arm strength of one of their top pitching assets to show that he can do it for a full season at the level he’s expected to. Of late, a pitcher who is supposed to be distinguishing himself from the mess this team has become simply hasn’t.
Bundy said all he can do is keep working between starts in hopes that things improve during his outings. Showalter said everything is on the table in terms of trying to get him back.
“If you’re talking about building innings, that means he’s gotten a lot of rest,” Showalter said. “We look at it today, every day, where every pitcher is. … Dylan is, I don’t want to say catch-up. He’s in a good spot as far as innings and starts for where you’d like to have him at the end of the year to be ready to go forward with him. But at some point, you’ve got to maybe look at it a little differently. But he’s missed some time this year. I don’t know. We’ll look at it again. … He’s very honest about it. It’s almost like at times, he’d rather have some issue physically. But if you don’t, which at this point we don’t think, you’ve got to look at a lot of different reasons.”
The Orioles clawed back some with a run-scoring single in the seventh inning by Mark Trumbo, plus an RBI double by Austin Wynns and a two-run, Eutaw Street home run by Jonathan Villar.
But the Mets couldn’t let the Orioles have the last word. Mike Wright Jr. pitched the ninth and allowed a two-run home run to Wilmer Flores.