ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Orioles rookie right-hander Dylan Bundy is navigating through uncharted territory in September. His pitch counts have climbed into the 90s, and the 23-year-old is nearing the 100-inning mark for the first time since his first professional season — also the first time since he underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction in 2013.
But Bundy said his arm feels strong and he shrugged off any notion that fatigue is setting in after the second-shortest start of his career in Wednesday afternoon's 7-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
"I was telling the guys today, I felt better today than I have in a couple of my past starts," Bundy said after lasting just 3 2/3 innings Wednesday, his shortest start since going 3 1/3 in his first big league start on July 17, also at Tropicana Field. "I felt great. Arm's not an issue anymore. I'm just trying to get better and watch video and keep doing what I'm supposed to be doing."
So according to Bundy, any struggles have more to do with adapting to being a big league starter than anything physical.
Still, the Orioles have a close eye on Bundy down the stretch. He will likely get an extra day off before his next start in Boston. Over his next two starts, he could surpass his career-high innings mark of 103 2/3 innings in 2012, his first year in professional baseball.
"We take a look every day at it," manager Buck Showalter said. "We look at his work day, his body of work. He had some outings where he didn't command the ball as well. So have all the other guys that have thrown 200 innings in their career. Anybody who has got some magic formula on that … and what's happened sometimes when he's had an outing like that, he's bounced back and had a real good one."
The return of right-hander Chris Tillman from the disabled list will give Showalter six starters to choose form. Whether Bundy will get added rest because of it remains to be seen, but Showalter indicated it will be considered.
Bundy is 4-4 with a 5.13 ERA in eight starts on four days' rest, and hasn't allowed a run in 12 2/3 innings over two starts with one extra day of rest.
Over Bundy's past five starts, he owns a 6.46 ERA and has seen his season ERA jump from 2.93 to 3.82.
"We're looking at it, just like [pitching coach Dave Wallace] and [bullpen coach] Dom [Chiti] and I sat down today and looked at all the matchups as we go forward and we'll put our best feet forward, and if we feel like Dylan's the guy we'll run him out there again," Showalter said.
Despite failing to get through five innings for the third time in five starts — he has also allowed five runs in three of his past five — it appears that Bundy is still commanding exemplary stuff. He struck out seven batters Wednesday, and his average fastball velocity of 95.6 mph was his highest in his past seven starts, according to Brooks Baseball. He got 15 swings and misses on the day, but the Rays escalated his pitch count by extending at-bats with foul balls.
"His stuff was good," Showalter said. "In fact, he was carrying a good fastball today. … He jerked a couple of balls for home runs. He was trying to go away and jerked them middle-in where you don't want to throw the ball. He paid the price."
Bundy has allowed five homers in his two starts against the Rays, with Tampa Bay hitting two long balls against him Wednesday.
Kevin Kiermaier jumped on a 94 mph, first-pitch fastball from Bundy in the first inning, but that run didn't hurt him. Even the two-run homer he allowed to Nick Franklin in the third inning on an 0-2 pitch wasn't overly damaging.
But the full-count fastball over the outer corner that Kiermaier swatted into left field with two outs in the fourth that was the devastating blow that ended Bundy's day. It was an at-bat that Bundy had won often over his brief time as a starter, using all of his pitches effectively when behind in the count.
Bundy found himself in a bases-loaded jam partially because he issued two walks. He has struggled with his command of late, with 13 walks over his past four outings.
"Just battling the whole time, ever since pitch one," Bundy said. "They were following off the pitches that were good and hitting the ones that weren't so good, I thought. Just baseball. Got to get better and watch some video on them and get better."
Bundy fell behind Kiermaier 3-1 before working the count full by getting him to swing through a changeup and foul off another before going low and away with a 95 mph fastball.
"It was good because it wasn't over the plate, but it would have been ball four and a run would have scored anyway if he didn't swing," Bundy said. "So, he just stuck his barrel out and hit it. They were on it today. Got to give it up to them."
Kiermaier's hit — which tied the game at 5 — chased Bundy, ending his 33-pitch fourth inning. Bundy failed to hold a lead given to him for the second time on the day.
"I think I got us down a run and they got back on top and I gave it up again and they got us back on top," Bundy said. "You want go out there, and especially the second or third time, get a shutdown inning. I wasn't able to do it this time. Hopefully I can do it next time."