Dylan Bundy finally got his groove back.
The Orioles right-hander — whose season had spun out of control over his previous 11 outings going into Thursday night — had been searching for answers.
He’d talked repeatedly about the need to locate his fastball better. But after his most recent start, in Tampa Bay last Friday night, before saying his frustration level had reached its limit — 10 out of 10, in his words — he added that he needed to start throwing his pitches with more conviction.
And that was the Bundy who suddenly re-emerged Thursday night against the contending Oakland Athletics, a confident pitcher able to use multiple weapons to avoid a big inning and remain in control of a game.
“Yeah, [it was] a lot different,” Bundy said. “I had a clue where it was going now … just the conviction in the pitch and believing in yourself and [knowing] that it was the right pitch. I think that was the biggest thing tonight.”
In steering the Orioles to a 5-3 win over the Athletics — a win that avoided a three-game sweep, ended a six-game losing streak and halted a stretch of 10 losses in 11 games — Bundy looked more like the pitcher who ran out to a quick start to the season in this year’s first month rather than the one who plodded through most of the second half.
“Dylan’s got a different moxie, I’m telling you, than a lot of people you come across,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Some players are like Forrest Gump and the box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. You know at some point he’s going to get back on the horse. This one has been, quite frankly, a little longer than I’ve seen from him. We’ll see what the next one brings. But he always has a purpose and has the want-to and everything. Just really as happy for him as the team getting a ‘W’ because I know he’s been beating himself up.”
Going into this start, there was some question whether it might be Bundy's last of the season. Despite wanting to find a way for him to end this season on a positive note, the club wondered whether he might be too tired to do so.
It helped Thursday that the Orioles (42-104) gave him a lead early, using some first-inning small ball to create a 2-0 cushion.
Bundy recorded his first quality start since Aug. 4, holding the Athletics (89-57) to two runs on six hits over six innings. He struck out eight and walked none, a dramatic shift from his previous start, when he walked a season-high five batters.
Bundy (8-14), who had an 8.83 ERA over his previous 11 starts, earned his first win since July 29 at Tampa Bay.
“I just thought [it was] the conviction with all the pitches,” Bundy said. “I think that kind of made them a little bit sharper, slider, curveball was all playing to that right-handed lineup they had tonight. … Belief and believing in myself in every single pitch for however many pitches I throw, knowing that pitch you’re calling, the one you’re going to throw to that batter is the right one every time.”
He worked ahead of Oakland hitters throughout, posting 16 of 24 first-pitch strikes.
His slider Thursday might have been his best of the season. Of the 20 sliders A’s batters swung at, the A’s put just three in play. And seven of Bundy’s eight strikeouts came on the slider, which was effective both in the strike zone and as a chase pitch down and away.
“I thought he had just a good feel for pitching,” Showalter said. “He made them beat his breaking ball. He had a good breaking ball, he had good command of it and they didn’t seem like they were seeing it or following it. And he had two of them. Really happy for Dylan. I almost took him out after the fifth inning, just to give him a positive note, but he seemed to get a little better as the game went on.”
Bundy recorded 12 swinging strikes on the slider, getting a 40 percent swinging strike rate on it. He recorded no swinging strikes on the slider in his previous start, and in his previous six starts combined, he had a 22.8 percent swinging strike rate on the pitch.
“I was just trying to speed it up a little bit,” Bundy said of his slider. “Sometimes I get on the side of it and not really on top and behind the baseball, so just try to make it a little more tighter tonight and the results were better tonight for sure.”
Though Bundy allowed runs after each inning in which the Orioles scored, he limited the damage. He allowed a solo homer by Stephen Piscotty — Bundy’s major league-high 38th long ball surrendered — with two outs in the second inning after the Orioles took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, but nothing else that frame.
After a two-run fourth, Bundy allowed a run in the fifth on a double by Marcus Semien off third baseman Renato Núñez’s glove and an RBI single by Nick Martini over into left over Núñez.
But Bundy bore down from there in a situation that has often recently gotten away from him. He threw a first-pitch slider to Josh Phegley, got him to foul back a high fastball, then after Phegley passed on a slider in the dirt, he caught Phegley looking at a strike-three fastball.
Bundy then won a six-pitch battle with leadoff hitter Ramón Laureano, striking him out to end the inning despite falling behind 2-1. Bundy struck Laureano out by getting him to swing through a full-count slider
The Orioles’ bullpen bent but didn’t break in the late innings with Mychal Givens entering a 4-3 game with one out and the bases loaded and retiring the first two batters he faced to end the inning.
After pitching a scoreless seventh, Miguel Castro allowed back-to-back leadoff singles in the eighth. Left-hander Paul Fry entered and struck out Jed Lowrie, but then walked Khris Davis and Matt Olson, the latter of which walked in a run.
But Givens entered the game and struck out Piscotty and inducted an inning-ending flyout to right by Semien.
After that, the Orioles added an insurance run on Jace Peterson’s opposite-field double down the left-field line off A’s reliever Jeurys Familia that scored Tim Beckham.
Givens worked around a leadoff walk in the ninth — getting an inning-changing diving catch from second baseman Breyvic Valera in shallow right field — to convert his seventh save.
The Orioles took a 2-0 lead in the first after bunt singles by Cedric Mullins and Jonathan Villar came around to score on Tim Beckham’s two-out, two-run single off Oakland start Brett Anderson.
They went up 4-1 in the fourth on back-to-back run-scoring singles by John Andreoli and Valera. Trey Mancini opened the inning with a single, and two batters later went to second on Núñez’s single. Both runners moved into scoring position on a wild pitch before hits by Andreoli and Valera chased Anderson from the game.