Let’s start this with the criticism.
Saturday night at Camden Yards was not Dylan Bundy’s best outing of 2017, despite his important role in the Orioles’ 6-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
It tied for his shortest appearance and most runs allowed this season.
He threw 105 pitches in six innings and labored in two of his last three frames. He had trouble locating his curveball for strikes and had spotty command of his slider.
“I was grinding. Me and (catcher Caleb Joseph) were grinding together back there,” Bundy said. “I really didn’t have much of a curveball or slider today until that last inning. I didn’t have my curveball all game. Just trying to grind as much as we could and get outs.”
OK, I’m done. Criticism over.
Now, to what’s impressive about this guy.
The demeanor, the diverse arsenal, the mound presence, even when every inning doesn’t go swimmingly or two of his four pitches aren’t working as he’d like.
“I’ve always been impressed with him,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I think the respect he has for what you have to do to be consistently successful here. He knows how quickly it can go. I don’t think he gets too wound up in the real good and the real bad. He can turn the page on something good and turn the page on something bad.”
Bundy’s 24, and is in his first full season as a starting pitcher in the majors.
He made 14 starts last year and only three were considered “quality starts,” — six innings or more and three earned runs allowed or fewer. Some of that had to do with the fact the Orioles monitored his pitch counts and innings-load carefully, given his injury history.
Saturday night, Bundy made his seventh start of 2017, allowing three runs on six hits and a walk in six innings. That qualifies as his seventh quality start in seven chances.
What does that mean to him?
“It means I’m on a roll,” Bundy said with a hint of a smile. “I feel good and my body feels good. And, like I said, I’m just going out there every time trying to give my team a chance to win.”
The Orioles, as a team, have 16 quality starts in 29 games, and their youngest member of the rotation has nearly half.
The win statistic has been downgraded for years, and I understand why. But let’s not completely discount that Bundy’s record is 5-1, and no other full-time Orioles’ starter has more than one victory. Bundy is now tied for the major league lead with five wins.
He’s posted a team-best 45 2/3 innings pitched this year, that’s also among league leaders; the next closest Oriole is Wade Miley with 31 2/3 innings – 14 fewer than Bundy.
There’s that immediate concern that maybe Bundy is already throwing too many innings, but Showalter said he’s on that.
“Very quietly we’ve been real careful with him this year,” Showalter said. “I think you’ll see some stuff as we go forward … He’ll be picking up some (extra days of rest) as we go forward. We’ve had a plan through the first start after the All-Star break for all our guys, but especially Dylan.”
Bundy was once supposed to be this good, back in 2011, when he was taken with the fourth pick overall and was considered one of the most polished prep pitchers in recent memory.
He lived up to the billing until injuries — primary elbow-ligament surgery and a calcification in his shoulder — dulled that star. Maybe, in a sense, that’s a good thing, Showalter said.
“For a guy that came out with all the hoopla surrounding him, I think maybe in the long run some of the best things that happened are some of the challenges he’s gone through that’s made him kind of developed into a more complete pitcher,” Showalter said.
Even the most ardent Bundy supporters heading into the season expected him to be the Orioles’ second best young hurler behind Kevin Gausman. Yet so far Bundy has surpassed Gausman, a fellow fourth overall pick, in just about every statistical category.
Bundy will be quick to tell you that one full month of baseball – seven starts of an anticipated 30-plus – does not make a season. He’s not even a quarter of the way there.
But the kid has faced the Red Sox three times, the Blue Jays twice and the Rays and White Sox once each and hasn’t blinked.
In fact, it’s gotten to the point where Bundy pitches solidly, gets the win and we shrug our shoulders. Another quality start by Bundy. It’s what we’re starting to expect, what his teammates and Showalter are starting to expect.
And that’s what Bundy wants.
“Absolutely. It’s been my goal since when I got drafted by the Orioles … to become a dependable big league starter. And I haven’t done that until, it seems like, last year,” he said. “I’m just thankful and humble that I got the opportunity to start in the big leagues and I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”