Dylan Bundy makes his first start for the Double-A Bowie Baysox… (Lloyd Fox, The Baltimore…)
BOWIE — Top Orioles pitching prospect Dylan Bundy looked slightly human in his Double-A debut for the Bowie Baysox on Tuesday night at Prince George's Stadium, but that doesn't change anything.
He still has a chance to show up at Camden Yards in the next few weeks, and not just to pick up his Jim Palmer Award as the organization's minor league pitcher of the year.
The pitching lines aren't as gaudy these days, because Bundy isn't pitching near the bottom of the minor league system any more. He was a man among boys at Class-A Delmarva. He was merely outstanding in his 11 starts for the higher-A Frederick Keys. And, of course, he has been under orders to perfect his secondary pitches and not to rely so heavily on his electric fastball.
So, Bundy took the mound in the first game of a doubleheader between the Baysox and Erie Seawolves and, using all his pitches, held a pretty good Double-A lineup to three runs (two earned) on five hits over 5 1/3 innings to gain his eighth minor league victory in 11 decisions at three different levels. His line would have been a little better without some sketchy fielding, but he walked three and struck out only three and wasn't quite the flamethrowing phenom who pitched the equivalent of a 13-inning no-hitter (over four starts) to begin his professional career.
Not that anyone in the Orioles' player development department was expecting him to cruise through the entire system unchallenged. Bundy is still a little raw, as well he should be a year out of high school, and he'll need a sharp curveball and a more consistent changeup to become all that he can be at the major league level. But he already has the thing you can't teach — a high-90s fastball and the ability to command it in the strike zone — so he might be a good guy to have around Oriole Park in September.
Surely, the Baysox are happy to have him, if only for a week or two. He drew a nice crowd on a muggy evening, and a group of fans behind the Baysox dugout serenaded him in each inning with a Yankee-style "Dy-lan Bun-dy, Dylan Bun-dy" chant. Behind home plate, the Orioles contingent included no-doubt Hall of Famer Jim Thome, who came out at the request of O's manager Buck Showalter to size Bundy up from the perspective of an elite major league hitter.
Though the official plan from the start was for Bundy to spend the entire season working his way up the minor league ladder — very gradually — it was always presented by Showalter with a nod and a wink, as if he sensed that there would come a point late in the season when Bundy might be needed to put a quick charge into the Orioles rotation.
Whether that was part of some secret alternate plan or just wishful thinking will probably never be known for sure, but this much is pretty clear: The Orioles are keeping their options open now that a wild-card berth is no longer a pipe dream, and the decision to move 20-year-old Manny Machado into the major league starting lineup has everyone wondering if Bundy is headed up soon.
The plan in Bowie is for Bundy to pitch in a six-man rotation and make a total of four regular season starts, the last of which is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 1 — the day the major league roster limit expands from 25 to 40. At that point, he could either stick around to pitch in the playoffs for the Baysox (if they hold onto second place in the Western Division of the Eastern League), come up to the major league club or start preparing for the Instructional League.
The Orioles probably would tell you that it's all good.
If the whole reason for slow-playing Bundy was to protect his young arm, the Orioles have done a pretty good job of it so far. He has just 89 2/3 innings in his first pro season and appears likely to be right around 100 at the end of August.
If it was about keeping him viable for a possible late-season call-up to help the major league club in a pennant race, well, mission accomplished.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.
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