Dylan Bundy followed up his best start of the season with one that clearly illustrated how his good ones have become the anomalies.
Bundy's fastball averaged 89.8 mph, the lowest average fastball velocity of any start in his major league career, and aged slugger Albert Pujols deposited two 89-mph Bundy fastballs into the left-field seats to help the Los Angeles Angels to a 7-2 win over the Orioles before an announced crowd of 21,106 at Camden Yards on Saturday.
While Bundy said he felt “fine” after the game, there was certainly a difference between the 91-92 mph range he lived in during his previous two starts — including his 7 1/3 scoreless innings May 4 — and the performance a week later in which he said he “had to battle the whole game.”
It came to a head in the fifth inning when, with his fastball in the 87-88 mph range, Bundy got check-in visits from catcher Austin Wynns and pitching coach Doug Brocail to make sure he wasn’t hurt. Bundy insisted he wasn’t, and head athletic trainer Brian Ebel relayed as much to manager Brandon Hyde in a brief chat after the game. But Bundy wouldn’t be given a sixth inning because of it despite using just 80 pitches through five.
“We thought in the fifth, we saw the velo drop, and a bunch of 87s on the board, and a little lack of command,” Hyde said. “That's why we took him out there. … That's why you saw Broc go out there in the fifth. Wynns went out there, then Broc goes out there because the velo was down. Just making sure he's OK. He said he was OK, but it just didn't look right for us.”
It's been years since Bundy was living in the mid-90s with his fastball, with those days ending when he joined the rotation full-time beginning in 2017. The days of the high-90s — when Bundy was the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft — were gone sooner, mostly thanks to years of elbow injuries.
But this is something else entirely. His velocity has been inconsistent, if not gradually dropping, for years. This was just the second time in Bundy’s major league career that he averaged under 90 mph with his fastball, though, and the Angels (19-20) attacked them from the start.
They swung at his first three pitches — all fastballs — and put them in play for a single, a fielder's choice, and a hard line drive. The 39-year-old Pujols took one for a ball before Bundy left one high and inside, and Pujols turned on it for a home run.
“They were being ultra-aggressive and trying to ambush him,” Hyde said. “Pujols did.”
Bundy stayed away from the fastball well after that to settle in, using his slider and changeup over 50 percent of the time after that.
“I think once you get through that first and started really pitching, I thought he pitched well the second through the fourth inning,” Hyde said. “I thought he used his off-speed stuff really, really well and his fastball played up because of it.”
The Orioles (13-26) quickly erased the deficit from Pujols' first home run of the game with a two-run home run by Dwight Smith Jr., his seventh of the season. But Pujols got a 2-0 fastball in nearly the same place in his next at-bat and did what Hall of Famers do with such pitches.
“He got me twice today,” Bundy said. “You can't make a mistake to him, and I missed my spot on both pitches — just a little bit on the first one, but the second one, I just lost command there and missed my spot by about a foot and a half.”
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Pujols’ pair made eight of Bundy's 11 home runs allowed this year on the fastball; 30 of the 52 home runs he's allowed since the start of 2018 have come on fastballs. That's tied with New York Yankees left-hander J.A. Happ for the most in baseball during that span.
“I just see fastballs that are thigh-high,” Hyde said.
Before Bundy gave way to the bullpen — and watched as Gabriel Ynoa pitched a lengthy three-run sixth before 3 1/3 innings of one-run relief by Branden Kline and Jimmy Yacabonis — the 26-year-old right-hander came out for a fifth inning that was almost exclusively fastballs.
He didn't really command them well, and at one point, with a 2-0 count, pitching coach Doug Brocail came out for a visit. He spent most of the inning around 87-88 mph before jumping up to 91.8 mph for his final batter, Mike Trout.
Bundy left having allowed three runs on four hits with two walks and two strikeouts. The two home runs were killers, and made his ERA 5.31.
He wasn’t very expansive on what worked and what didn’t — though he did say some of his elevated fastballs were because he was getting under the ball too much. He’s pitched at different velocities his entire life, though according to MLB Statcast data via Baseball Savant, it was one-tenth of a mile per hour lower than his previous low of 89.9 mph on April 26, 2017. That, he said, wasn’t a concern.
“I wasn't worried about it,” Bundy said. “I didn't look up there and see a problem. I might look at a few mechanical things, but overall, my arm feels great. I'll just keep chucking it.”