Orioles' Dylan Bundy bounces back in 5-1 win over Indians

Jon Meoli, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Baseball

CLEVELAND -- Whether it registered with Dylan Bundy that his fastball velocity was uncharacteristically low in his previous start or not, the Orioles' onetime flamethrower answer a week's worth of questions by making an age-old adjustment: he just didn't throw it as much.

With a dominant pitch mix that downplayed his hittable fastball, Bundy allowed just an unearned run and commanded both his pitches and the game in lasting into the sixth inning. That made home runs from Jonathan Villar and Stevie Wilkerson stand up for a 5-1 Orioles win over the Cleveland Indians on Friday at Progressive Field.

For years, pitchers have learned that mix is better than muscle when fastball velocity dips over time. Bundy has been dealing with that drop steadily over time, but couldn't have combated it better than he did Friday.

In five innings of work Saturday against the Los Angeles Angels, Bundy's fastball velocity dropped precipitously in his last inning. Manager Brandon Hyde said it was alarming the team from the dugout, and Bundy didn't get a sixth inning. His average fastball velocity of 89.8 mph was the lowest of his career, according to Statcast.

Bundy said he was fine, but it was the clearest indication of the issues that have developed with his fastball of late. Arm strength or no arm strength, it became a hittable pitch -- eight of his 11 home runs allowed this year were on fastballs, as were 22 of the league-high 41 he allowed in 2018.

As his velocity started to creep down over the last few years, he worked a wipeout slider into the mix. But his curveball and change-up were priorities to get back into the mix this season from the start of spring training; the realization of that goal came when Bundy most needed it, and it was clear from the start.

While he threw a customary first-pitch fastball to Francisco Lindor, Bundy went right to his curveball and eventually his changeup for a strikeout to open Cleveland's first. He threw just five fastballs in a 16-pitch first inning, and that pitch mix only changed slightly as things progressed.

His second-inning strikeouts of Jordan Luplow and Leonys Martin came on a slider and a changeup, respectively, and came after Jose Ramirez reached on an error by Jonathan Villar, stole second, and scored on a single by Jake Bauers.

But that was the only damage. Bundy pitched around two more baserunners in the third, cruised in the fourth, and got an in-game validation of how he was pitching in the fifth and sixth.

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Whereas last time out he tired in the fifth, on Friday he pushed on. Instead of Hyde with a hook after Lindor singled and Jason Kipnis walked with two outs in the fifth -- representing Bundy reaching the third time through the Indians' order -- he got a visit from pitching coach Doug Brocail and retired Carlos Gonzalez.

He returned for the sixth on 100 pitches and got two quick outs before a walk and another Villar error ended his day. Branden Kline cleaned it up for him, meaning Bundy left with just the unearned run in on three hits with three walks and seven strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 4.66.

He did so throwing his fastball just 40.7% of the time, according to Statcast data, although the average velocity was up to 90.6 mph. He featured his change-up more than he has in any start in his major league career, throwing it 30.3% of the time. His 13 curveballs were a nice complement to both, and the slider was there for swinging strikes when he needed it.

Hyde alluded to how Bundy's fastball, no matter the velocity, played up when he was locating and mixing his secondary pitches well. It's undoubtedly a model going forward for him. And because Bundy did that, and followed by 2 1/3 innings of combined scoreless relief from Kline and Shawn Armstrong before Mychal Givens' fifth save of the year with a perfect ninth. Givens hasn't allowed a run in six May appearances.

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