Big night in Salisbury: Dylan Bundy makes his home debut tonight

I would have to guess the Orioles fans on Maryland's Eastern Shore are pretty fired up about tonight's game at Salisbury's Perdue Stadium. Dylan Bundy makes his third pro start and first at home as the Single-A Shorebirds host Hagerstown at 7:05 p.m.

Hagerstown's Alex Meyer, drafted 23rd overall last year (Bundy was No. 4) will make this a matchup of first-round draft picks for the Orioles and Nationals.

Bundy has dazzled starting this season by retiring 18 consecutive batters - 12 on strikeouts - during his first two outings. Maybe Hagerstown will become the first team this year to put a runner on base against him, forcing Bundy to actually pitch out of the stretch for the first time.

In his last start, Wednesday at Kannapolis, the 19-year-old right-hander fanned six batters over his three-inning outing and struck out the last five batters during a stunning 31-pitch outing.

It seems everyone that has seen the kid pitch so far, from fans to reporters to scouts, is raving about what they have seen from the Orioles' 2011 first-round draft pick.

Fans are wondering how soon the Orioles will consider promoting Bundy to a higher level. In a conversation about that with Orioles director of pitching development Rick Peterson, he talked about the process of trying to turn Bundy into a major league ace someday, just like, say, Detroit's Justin Verlander.

"What does he (Verlander) do well? No. 1, he locates his fastball to both sides of the plate exceptionally well and to the bottom of the zone exceptionally well. He has a plus curveball and the difference-maker, by Verlander's own admission, he was a very good pitcher, then he came up with a changeup and now he's a great pitcher. That was his own assessment of himself. The changeup was the difference-maker for a Cy Young and MVP," Peterson said.

"Then we look at Dylan Bundy and what do we need to do to create an environment for him to go down that path? No. 1, he has to locate his fastball to both sides of the plate. At 96, 99 mph at this level, you don't need to do that to dominate hitters. It's Verlander velocity, but Verlander gave up a homer on one out of every six hits last year. In the majors, you can throw 96, but guys swing 97."

The Orioles have talked about just letting Bundy learn what it takes to be a pro pitcher early this season and say that process right now is as critical for the right-hander as the results he gets on the mound.

"Pro baseball is such a different environment than amateur ball," Peterson said. "You have socialization skills, as well. Being a good teammate, being a leader in the clubhouse, being a leader with his conditioning. Just learning the basic things of being in a professional lockeroom. Those are all factors. Those are equally important.

"You listen to a guy like Verlander speak. He handles himself exceptionally well. He has grown and developed. In order to be a great major league pitcher, you have to be a great major league person. Dylan Bundy is that."

Peterson said tonight's outing will likely be the last where they will limit Bundy to three innings. He then is expected to make three starts of four innings and then be able to start pitching multiple five-inning outings with his seventh start of this season.

During spring training, Bundy was among the 40 pitchers or so that the Orioles had take part in biomechanical testing. The testing provides what Peterson calls "an MRI of the pitching delivery" and can lead to the club choosing to make some small adjustments with a pitcher's mechanics. He said they did make some changes with Bundy.

"We were able to make some adjustments with his delivery, not for performance-related issues, but for health-related issues. We made some slight, tweak adjustments on his conditioning program also to make sure he's training properly," Peterson said.

The Orioles' plan for the year calls for Bundy to throw between 120 and 130 innings during this first season in pro ball. They are limiting his early outings so they can have him pitch longer outings as the season wears on.

The Orioles also have Bundy pitching as part of a six-man Delmarva rotation right now. That allows him, and their other young pitchers there, to have two bullpen sessions, not one, between starts.

"Your bullpen day is the day you can make the most progress of any day of all. That's a major, major teaching day," Peterson said. "You start to play around with the grip. Even with Dylan, late in spring training, we adjusted his changeup grip. The one he had before was fine, but it didn't have his fastball spin and what makes a great changeup is, not only the late movement and speed differential, but that it has the identical spin of your fastball. Hitters recognize pitches often by spin if the mechanics and release point are the same.

"Just by that one bullpen (session) late in spring training, we were able to play around with different grips, to see what was comfortable for him. He threw one and said 'wow, is that what we're looking for.'"

So far, this kid has delivered everything the Orioles could have been looking for and more. His next act comes up tonight.

Tickets are available for tonight's game by calling the Shorebirds box office at 410-219-3112.

Here is the Shorebirds press release on tonight's game.

Here are stories on Bundy's first and second pro starts.

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