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Orioles' Dylan Bundy reflects on changes to his pitch mix: 'You have to see it to believe it'

It's a minor distinction that doesn't exactly change what has happened for Orioles starter Dylan Bundy over the past month-plus. But since the beginning of May, he's rediscovered his form and pitched as well as at any point in the past year.

Seeing his fastball velocity dip and the effectiveness of that pitch wane of late wasn’t what led to him altering his pitch mix — which has featured significantly fewer fastballs during this stretch — as much as seeing the rest of his pitches work well has given him clearance to throw them more often.

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However he arrived there, what's important to him and the Orioles is that he has gotten there. And the pitcher who spent the better part of the past two seasons with hitters feasting on his fastball and home runs flying out of the ballpark has turned back into something much better since the beginning of May.

"Everyone's bringing up [throwing] less than 50% fastballs," Bundy said. "It's not something where I just said, 'Oh, I'm going to go do that.' You can't just go and do it. It's not that easy.

"It's more so that you have to see it to believe it, and you're seeing them swing and miss on changeups and sliders. You're getting ahead early with an 0-0 curveball and they're not hitting it out of the ballpark. And you're like, 'OK, I can keep doing this.' You keep doing things until they stop working. … Just reading swings, I think, is the biggest part. These big league hitters will let you know."

Early in the season, they told Bundy maybe less fastballs would be better. He had allowed six of his nine home runs on fastballs and simply was leaving too many fastballs over the plate without the ability to blow it past hitters the way he had in years past.

That culminated in his May 11 start against the Los Angeles Angels, when Bundy got a visit in the fifth inning from pitching coach Doug Brocail because his velocity was falling into the 87-89 mph range. Bundy didn't pitch past that inning despite having a good outing.

He joked he learned that day he has to pitch above 90 mph to prevent further visits going forward, but he also pretty significantly changed his pitch mix right after that. In that start against the Angels, he threw his fastball 52.5 percent of the time. Next time out against the Cleveland Indians, he threw it 40.6 percent of the time, and struck out seven without allowing an earned run in 5 2/3 innings.

His season ERA is down to 4.50, the lowest it has been since Aug. 4, and he has a 3.38 ERA in his past five starts. Sunday's start against the Houston Astros was the first of that run in which he even approached throwing half of his pitches for fastballs.

"There might be games this year that I might have to throw 65, 70% fastballs. I don't know. There might be games where I only have to throw 30%," Bundy said. "It's not something where I look at the numbers and say, 'I'm going to throw it only 25 times this game.’ "

His insistence that it's not so much in response to where his fastball velocity has been makes some sense, as Bundy spent most of spring training trying to get his changeup and curveball where he wanted them. Since he started throwing his slider again in 2017, Bundy essentially stopped featuring either his changeup or curveball. When his slider was on, it didn't matter.

But having them all now gives Bundy the weapons to keep hitters off-balance and better attack their weaknesses with a pitch that he feels confident with.

"We've always known that the slider is an out pitch for me, a plus pitch," Bundy said. "The split is getting there, and the fastball plays up. If we get them out on the front foot a lot and have them lunging for the ball, now that fastball that's only 91-93 [mph] might play a lot higher than that because they're waiting for that slider or split in the dirt, or slow curveball."

Manager Brandon Hyde said both when Bundy was struggling and now that he's back on track that his other pitches make his fastball play up. Now, hitters have six weeks worth of evidence that he'll throw anything in a fastball count.

"You don't ever want your fastball to decrease as the season goes," Bundy said. "If anything, you want it to increase, and right now, I feel like it's trending up with getting behind the baseball and throwing through the target. Having four pitches, you can really do a whole lot of things with four pitches, if you know how to throw them in certain counts — tunneling your fastball with a high curveball, or a curveball in the dirt with a heater outside. There's all different kinds of things you can do, but you've got to be able to throw them where you're intending them.

"Some days, you'll go out there and you're not throwing the curveball for the strikes or the changeup-split strike. Things kind of go awry and you've got to kind of abort that and battle that game. Those are the games that are tough and you've just got to get the team to six innings and hopefully you've got more runs on the board than they've got."

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