The Baltimore Orioles have waited a very long time for Dylan Bundy to emerge as a top-of-the-rotation starter. And based on his 2017 season debut Wednesday night, he might be on the cusp of that taking that next step.
Bundy, who is still only 24, held the high-powered Toronto Blue Jays to one run on four hits over seven innings. He struck out eight and did not walk anyone. Only twice in 14 starts last season did he strike out at least eight batters. He fanned Devon Travis, Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista in the first inning and looked filthy doing so. The O’s won the game, 3-1 (box score).
With all those strikeouts came a career-high 16 swings and misses. Bundy generated 14 swings and misses on his change-up alone, easily a new career high. He never had more than 12 swings and misses on his change-up in any two back-to-back starts combined last season. Bundy shattered his previous career high in his 2017 debut.
Interestingly enough, the Blue Jays are a right-handed heavy lineup. Switch-hitters Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak were the only lefty hitters in the Blue Jays lineup. That’s notable because, as a right-handed pitcher, Bundy threw a ton of right-on-right changeups. The changeup is typically used against batters on the other side of the plate given its fade back to the pitcher’s arm side.
Toronto’s righties went 3-for-20 (.150) with three singles Wednesday against Bundy, and only one of those 20 batters saw a hitter-friendly 2-0 or 3-1 count. That was Steve Pearce in the seventh inning, the final batter Bundy faced. Bundy fell behind in the count 2-0, then got Pearce to roll over on a (yup) changeup for an inning-ending ground ball to third base. You won’t see many righties throw a 2-0 changeup to a right-handed batter.
Here, via Baseball Savant, are Bundy’s pitch locations against Toronto’s right-handed batters Wednesday night:
Bundy left a few changeups up in the zone, but he generally did a good job locating the pitch down and away from righties. Fastballs in and out, up and down, and a few token curveballs. (They looked like sliders during the broadcast, for what it’s worth.) Otherwise the changeup was his go-to weapon against righties. That’s unconventional. Not bad, just unconventional.
Injuries, including Tommy John surgery, limited Bundy to only 65 1/3 innings from 2013-15. And although he pitched well overall last season, give the Orioles a truth serum and I’m sure they’d tell you they wish they could have sent him to the minors to start all season. That wasn’t possible because he was out of minor-league options, meaning he would have to be placed on waivers to go to Triple-A, and that surely wasn’t happening.
Bundy always had ability, though. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft for a reason. He’s been held back by injuries, which have slowed his development, but he made some nice strides last season and showed a glimpse of his potential Wednesday. Not too many young pitchers are comfortable enough in their changeup to use it right-on-right, yet Bundy did it. As a result, he dominated the Blue Jays.
Update: Following Wednesday’s start, Bundy confirmed he was throwing sliders to Toronto’s right-handed batters, not changeups. The pitch was misclassified by Statcast based on the movement and velocity. Here is Bundy talking about his outing with Steve Melewski of MASN Sports:
“Me and Welly (catcher Welington Castillo) had a great plan going into the game to start and we stayed on point with it and executed the game plan,” Bundy said. “The slider was a good pitch for me tonight. There were some more right-handed hitters in the lineup, so I was using that a bit more than I would, other than my changeup. I was happy with it.
“He was framing the ball great back there. Got me some low strikes tonight on the curveball and the slider. Sequencing was great. We had a game plan going into the game and earlier we executed it pretty well.”
Using a slider to attack right-handed batters makes far more sense then a changeup, although it is less interesting. Bummer. Bottom line: Bundy pitched very well against a tough lineup in his first start of the new season. The Orioles should be excited regardless of how Bundy did it.