Tuesday’s outing will go down as a loss for Orioles’ right-hander Dylan Bundy, his third of the season.
In many ways, though, the argument can be made that Bundy’s effort in the Orioles’ 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins was his best since blanking the Boston Red Sox through seven innings April 21.
On Tuesday, Bundy (5-3) allowed two runs on six hits and three walks while striking out seven in seven innings. He mixed his pitches well – his curveball was particularly strong – and he matched Minnesota ace Ervin Santana for most of the game.
Bundy’s mistakes were limited: A solo homer to Brian Dozier in the seventh, and a rocky fifth inning in which he walked the leadoff batter and gave up two singles before limiting the damage with two strikeouts and a force out.
“I think the first four innings I felt like I was cruising,” Bundy said, “and then that fifth inning I got into some trouble.”
What’s most impressive in watching Bundy is how he attacks hitters with whatever is working for him the best that evening. He, in a word, pitches. Which is rare for a 24-year-old – even one with a pedigree like Bundy’s (fourth pick overall in the 2011 draft).
“The thing that made him so intriguing to a lot of people coming out of the draft is that he was more than a thrower then, and it was plus-stuff. I’ve talked to a lot of people who saw him in high school and his first year,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He found some things (Tuesday) that worked. (Miguel) Sano, you see the (37) RBIs, and he pitched him as well as he can be pitched and he’s on top of his game, too, offensively. Pitcher’s on top of his game, hitters on top of their games, the pitcher wins most times.”
Learning from Ervin
Santana – a guy the Orioles’ coveted in the past, but never landed – has had an enigmatic career which included an 80-game suspension in 2015 for testing positive for stanozolol (the same drug that felled Rafael Palmeiro in 2015), just after signing a four-year, $55 million deal with the Twins.
He’s been amazing this season, however. Tuesday, Santana threw a complete-game two-hitter against the Orioles, lowering his season ERA to 1.90 in 10 starts. He’s allowed just one earned run in 29 road innings this year (0.31).
So, how’s he doing it?
No real secret here. He has a great slider/cutter, and attacks the zone with all his pitches. On Tuesday, though, he used a two-seam fastball and a changeup more often because he knew the Orioles would be looking for his four-seam fastball and slider.
It worked beautifully. He retired the last 14 batters of the game – on an incredibly efficient 42 pitches. He had three innings in which he threw seven pitches or fewer.
Part of that is the Orioles’ legendary aggressiveness at the plate, something Santana acknowledged after the game.
But he also knew they’d be looking slider, so he was willing to mix things up.
“The slider is about as good as you’re going to see, and a lot of guys are trying not to get to that out pitch,” Showalter said. “Then (he’s) successful with the changeup when you’re trying to ambush a fastball early and it works right into his hands.”
Orioles rookie Trey Mancini had never seen Santana before. He came away duly impressed.
“He was mixing his pitches well, using his offspeed more than he had in his other starts this year, I’d say, according to the scouting reports,” Mancini said. “His cutter was really effective. It looked good out of his hand, and then he just missed barrels with it and I think that’s what really set him apart.”
Orioles starters should take note. Attack the zone, work fast and try to keep the opposition off balance. It all is predicated, of course, on throwing strikes. And we all know that can be a challenge at times for several members of the Orioles’ rotation.
Perspective on Ervin vs. Ubaldo
When Santana pitched his gem against the Orioles, I immediately received several comments on Twitter reminding me that the Orioles and executive vice president Dan Duquette chose Ubaldo Jimenez over Ervin Santana heading into the 2014 season.
It’s true. The Orioles were negotiating with both and ultimately settled on Jimenez and a four-year, $50 million deal that has been a disaster.
In retrospect, it was a bad move. But let’s not act like it was a slam dunk that Duquette muffed from the beginning.
Heading into that 2014 season, Santana was 31 and coming off a 9-10 record and a 3.24 ERA with the Kansas City Royals while Jimenez was 30 and had been 13-10 with a 3.30 ERA for the Cleveland Indians.
Santana was more consistent in his production, but Jimenez was considered more durable and pitched half of his games in a more hitter-friendly ballpark. Both had qualifying offers attached to them, meaning the Orioles would lose a first-round draft pick if they signed either one.
Really, it was a coin flip, and the Orioles grabbed Jimenez. But they also circled back and offered Santana a one-year deal (as did the Toronto Blue Jays). Santana decided if he were settling for a pillow contract it would be in the National League – where it’s usually easier to pitch — and he agreed to a $14.1 million, one-year pact in mid-March with the Atlanta Braves. That’s worth noting here. No other team offered a four-year deal to Santana at the time, so it wasn’t just the Orioles who bailed.
Santana was fine in 2014, going 14-10 with a 3.95 ERA for the Braves. And then he landed a deal more lucrative than Jimenez’s the following season: four years and $55 million with an option for 2019 to pitch for the Twins. It was panned immediately as a reach by a pitching-starved club. And it looked even worse a few months later when Santana was suspended for half the season.
There was talk in April 2015 that it could go down as one of the worst contracts in baseball history. It won’t. Santana posted ERAs of 4.00 in 2015 and 3.38 last year. And this year he looks like one of baseball’s best. Meanwhile, Jimenez is likely losing his rotation spot and may not finish his final year with the Orioles.
So, if you want to say Duquette made the wrong choice, well, history backs you up there. But let’s not act as if this was a no-brainer that the Orioles screwed up and that you were shouting from the rooftops about in 2014. You’ll have to get me surveillance video from that rooftop before I believe you.
Trouble with the Central
The American League East is once again going to be a knock-down, drag-out battle. But it’s the AL Central that’s been hurting the Orioles this season.
Against their division rivals, the Orioles are 17-10. But against the AL Central, the Orioles are now 4-7. They’ve lost three of four series versus the Central; if you take out their three-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox, the Orioles are 1-7 against the Twins, Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers,
And they haven’t yet faced the 2016 American League champion Cleveland Indians yet.