SARASOTA, Fla. — Dylan Bundy was months into rehabilitating his surgically repaired right elbow, and the tedium of throwing exercises was beginning to test the 21-year-old's mettle.
He wanted to feel that he was advancing. He wanted to get the competitive juices flowing. Really, the Orioles phenom wanted to be a pitcher again, not just some guy tossing a baseball 90 or 180 feet on a back field in Florida.
And then Brady Anderson made a simple gesture — partly motivational, partly for his own survival.
Anderson, the longtime Orioles outfielder and current club vice president, walked onto the field one day earlier this year to play catch with Bundy, wearing a catcher's mask and holding a mitt.
Anderson told Bundy to start throwing as the front-office executive crouched into a catcher's squat. Bundy's face lit up.
“It's great. I don't care if you are left-handed, right-handed or don't catch at all, having a catcher is awesome,” Bundy said. “He knew I'd like that. And I did. It was fun.”
Anderson says it was simply a matter of good sense.
“I was just going to get down and give him a target. And if you are going to catch a guy throwing 100 [mph], you might want to put a mask on,” Anderson quipped. “There wasn't too much thought behind it. I thought it would feel better on my face if I had a mask on.”
The rocket-armed Bundy isn't throwing 100 mph yet. He's not allowed to throw anywhere near 100 percent. It's more like 70 percent to 80 percent while Bundy continues to rehabilitate from Tommy John surgery last June to repair a slight tear in his right elbow ligament.
He has been in major league camp since it opened in mid-February but, for procedural purposes, was optioned to Double-A Bowie on Friday and will be placed on the minor league disabled list.
He'll primarily be working with minor league medical coordinator Dave Walker, but Bundy probably will be back at Ed Smith Stadium to do more rehab with the big league staff, too.
The roster move “just changes where I am going to be. I'm going to be working with [Walker] down there, and that's who I've been working with the first six months of my rehab,” Bundy said. “We have a good relationship — it will be fine.”
Bundy's arduous rehabilitation has gone well — the deliberate pace, though, is something he has had to get accustomed to.
“It's been very hard. You take a week or two at each progression, and you end up throwing for a day or two, and I want to move up to the next progression,” said Bundy, the club's top draft pick in 2011 and one of the most heralded pitching prospects in franchise history. “But they keep telling me to hold back. I thought the hardest part of my surgery would be the throwing. It is not. It's the waiting.”
He'll stay in Sarasota and continue building arm strength until he can go on a rehab assignment and pitch in minor league games.
Pitchers typically return from the now-common surgery in about a year, which would put him back in a competitive environment in June. He has a date in mind for when he would like to return.
“Yeah, in my head I do, but I'm not going to tell you that,” Bundy said. “They say a full year is a respectable time period. So, hopefully some time around then.”
For someone whose competitiveness and work ethic were almost legendary before he was drafted fourth overall out of Owasso High (Okla.), keeping Bundy focused on the big picture and not rushing ahead initially was considered the steepest hurdle in his rehabilitation.
“Physically, he seems to be coming along. And mentally, he's come along real good. And that's the tough part,” Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace said. “It's a long, drawn-out rehab process, and he's been a model student so far.”
Anderson said Bundy's rehab program isn't easy, even for those who aren't recovering from surgery.
“He throws on a line up to 180 feet now, and he's got something on it,” Anderson said. “I am doing it with him, and sometimes I need somebody to help me do it. It's a lot [of] throwing.”
Currently at the long-toss stage, Bundy is scheduled to throw off a flat mound for the first time Wednesday. He views that as a baby step, going from grass to dirt and a rubber, although it will mean he'll throw to a right-handed catcher in full gear. The more telling jump is after that, he said, when he'll be able to throw from an elevated half-mound.
“The big step, the big progression, is the half-mound, which is in a couple weeks,” Bundy said.