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Orioles' late rally in loss shows progress

Nunez knots game with three-run homer; Bundy relies on offspeed pitches to go 5 2/3
@JoeTrezz
May 23, 2019

BALTIMORE -- For someone as competitive as Brandon Hyde, someone as used to winning, the manager admits the daily realities of the Orioles rebuild can be frustrating. But a delve into the skipper’s perspective revealed again how someone in his position cannot view each defeat equally, and none in a

BALTIMORE -- For someone as competitive as Brandon Hyde, someone as used to winning, the manager admits the daily realities of the Orioles rebuild can be frustrating. But a delve into the skipper’s perspective revealed again how someone in his position cannot view each defeat equally, and none in a vacuum.

Take for example Thursday’s 6-5 defeat to the Yankees, when the Orioles dropped their sixth straight game despite the type of comeback Hyde often champions, but his club rarely completes. Down four runs in the eighth, the O’s fought back to nearly stave off a sweep. Trey Mancini punched an RBI single before Renato Núñez yanked a game-tying three-run homer off Tommy Kahnle.

Box score

Those marked the Orioles first runs off New York’s vaulted relief corps in their last six head-to-head matchups, all of which were Yankees wins. And as a result, something to build on.

“That is an excellent, excellent bullpen. I’m happy with how we came back,” Hyde said. “If you look at our last six games against the Yankees -- which we’ve lost all six -- but two in New York, they had their set-up guy and closer in the game both times. The last two games here, [Aroldis] Chapman pitched and [Zack] Britton today. Of the six games, we’re in five of them. We’re a hit and a shutdown inning away from winning these games. We’re just not there yet.”

It wasn’t until an unusually erratic Mychal Givens walked Aaron Hicks to score the winning run in the ninth that the Orioles’ comeback went for naught, souring an afternoon in which Nunez and Dylan Bundy in particular showed signs of progress. Nunez appears cured of the lengthy funk he spent most of May in; his 419-foot shot off Kahnle marked his third homer in four games.

Bundy pitched better than his line showed, allowing three earned runs over 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision. But he held New York to little but Clint Frazier’s solo homer before Gio Urshela lashed a two-run, go-ahead single in the sixth. Still, the right-hander has dropped his ERA nearly two runs this month, posting a 2.25 ERA in four starts over that stretch.

“We’re developing in a lot of ways and giving guys a lot of opportunities,” Hyde said. “We’re in a mode right now of let’s see what we have. Next is developing them to win, to win close games.”

Bundy breaking the mold
It was less than two weeks ago, at a similar point in another matinee game, that pitching coach Doug Brocail visited Bundy on the mound with worry.

Bundy’s fastball velocity had just plummeted into the upper-80s, the radar readings flashing like warning signs from the concourse at Oriole Park. Afterward, Bundy would say he hardly noticed. But the Orioles did, removing him an inning later in fear of a physical problem. Bundy was later cleared medically, the incident chalked up to nothing less than a club exercising caution.

Except there is evidence to suggest it spearhead something far more interesting: a change in approach. Flash forward to Thursday, when Brocail jogged back out to counsel Bundy in the sixth inning of a tie game, this time hoping he’d finish the frame. Bundy’s fastball velocity had stabilized back up to the low-90s, but he’d spent the afternoon only occasionally showing it, instead keeping the Yankees’ homer-hungry lineup off-balance with a cocktail of changeups, sliders and curves.

Which is why it was telling how Bundy attacked Urshela at the game’s most critical juncture with offspeed offerings.

“When your fastball gets hit around like mine has the last two years, you have to make a change eventually,” Bundy said. “I’m just tired of getting kicked in and not changing a thing, so I had to change something.”

The difference has been plain to see. He’s throwing his heater less than ever since last Sunday’s velocity scare, down to a season-low 41 percent of the time in each of his past two starts. His ERA is 2.38 over that stretch, and 5.31 across all other outings. The reigning MLB leader in home runs allowed has held opponents to three in his last four starts.

Only four times last season did Bundy throw fewer than 50 percent fastballs in a start. Toss out a seven-run hiccup, and his ERA was 2.55 when he did so. In his 27 other starts in 2018, Bundy pitched to a 5.55 ERA.

“You see how late they are on his heater because of the pitch mix,” Hyde said. “The heater plays higher because of it, and that’s what you’re seeing the last couple of starts.”

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.