PHOENIX -- This is the version of Dylan Bundy the Twins were hoping to see.
When Minnesota signed the 29-year-old right-hander to a one-year deal this past offseason, it was optimistic that he’d return to his form from 2020, easily the best of his eight years in the Majors. The club thought Bundy could help boost a starting rotation that ranked 25th in ERA in ‘21.
There were times over the first two months of the season -- particularly early -- that Bundy showed he may be capable of doing that. But nothing as impressive as the outing he orchestrated Saturday night.
Bundy tossed eight masterful innings of one-run ball in the Twins’ 11-1 victory over the D-backs at Chase Field. It was the first time Bundy pitched more than six frames in 11 starts this year, and he recorded a season-high-tying seven strikeouts with only four hits allowed and no walks.
Bundy became the first Minnesota starter to complete eight innings in '22. It was his longest outing since a complete game for the Angels on Aug. 6, 2020.
“He was filling up innings just very quickly with great pitches, great command, great sequencing,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He was on the ball from the very beginning of this game until we pulled him out of the game. The ability to go that long when you haven’t done it in a little while, too, just the way he did it -- it was a very impressive outing.”
Bundy had plenty of time to prepare for this start. He hadn’t pitched since June 9, nine days prior, as Minnesota had an off-day Thursday and also worked in the returns of Joe Ryan (COVID-19 injured list) and Sonny Gray (right pectoral strain).
During the downtime, Bundy had a clear goal in mind for what he needed to improve.
“Commanding the ball and getting some of the pitches I need to get down in the zone, getting them down, especially with two strikes; that’s kind of been a weakness,” said Bundy, who had an 8.51 ERA over his previous seven starts after opening the season with 15 1/3 innings of one-run ball through his first three outings.
It became clear early Saturday that Bundy was in store for a stellar showing. He set down the D-backs’ first 10 batters of the game, needing only 34 pitches to do so while relying mostly on his four-seam fastball and changeup, before later working in his slider and curveball.
Bundy waited more than a week to pitch, and the Twins’ offense gave him some lengthy breaks on this night, too. Minnesota rallied for six runs in the third and three in the fourth, handing Bundy a 9-0 lead to work with.
Pitching with such a big advantage can make it challenging to stay locked in, and Bundy gave up a leadoff triple to Buddy Kennedy in the fifth that led to an Arizona run. But the righty settled back in and made sure the game didn’t get close to competitive. The outing ended when Bundy fanned Jordan Luplow to end the eighth on his 107th pitch (his 74th for a strike).
“You just try not to think about [the lead] at all and just throw strikes and command the ball and work ahead,” Bundy said. “Your defense doesn’t want to be sitting out there, especially when they’re itching to get to the bat rack and you’re walking guys and giving up hits. So I just tried to attack them the best way I could.”
D-backs manager Torey Lovullo was the Red Sox’s bench coach in 2016, Bundy’s first full season in the Majors with the American League East rival Orioles. Although Bundy never quite lived up to his top-prospect billing, Lovullo still wasn’t surprised by what he saw Saturday.
“When he gets it moving, he can change speeds, move the ball around,” Lovullo said. “I think he just kept us off-balance.”
While Bundy struggled of late, the Twins’ rotation got two key pieces back in Ryan and Gray. Things could get even more crowded soon when Josh Winder (right shoulder impingement) and Bailey Ober (right groin strain) return.
But Baldelli said Bundy was never in jeopardy of losing his spot, as he remained confident the righty would get back on track. Just like he believes Bundy could now go on a roll.
“It doesn’t get much better for a player’s mentality and their confidence," Baldelli said, "and their ability to go out there the next start and just build on all of the different little things that he did in this start really, really well. He’s going to take a lot from what he just did into his next outing.”
Bundy will be ready when called upon -- no matter how soon or far into the future.
“I’ve just got to keep it going now every five or six days,” Bundy said. “Or nine, I guess.”