Dylan Bundy felt like he was throwing with someone else’s arm. The Orioles right-hander didn’t word it that way, but that’s how it sounded when I spoke to him earlier this week. It’s not unlike an out-of-body experience when the radar gun is at odds with your senses, in both directions.
Bundy had Tommy John surgery in 2013, and the road back wasn’t always smooth. Along with arduous rehab, there were sensory blips.
“I felt out of whack when I started throwing again,” said Bundy.” Something just felt off. It was like my arm was perfectly fine, but I was trying to throw the ball 70 mph and it was coming out 55. It was a weird feeling.
“Even when I got all the way up to 92, when I was rehabbing in the minors, I would have games where my arm felt perfectly fine, my body felt fine, mechanically I was fine, but it felt like the ball was coming out 85 mph and it was really coming out 91-92. That was even weirder. I wondered if the feeling was ever going to go away.”
There are still days where the ball doesn’t come out exactly the way he felt it did. There are also periodic issues with the sharpness and velocity of his pitches. Bundy’s slider is in his back pocket — “It was tweaking my forearm, so I’ve quit throwing it for now” — and his changeup is improved. But while his go-to offerings are big-league quality, they’re ‘re moodier than they once were.
“Fastball and curveball… they’re not quite there, but they’re getting there,” Bundy told me. “Sometimes I go out and my stuff is exactly the same as it was before. Sometimes it’s not even close. It’s like, “What happened? How did it just go away like that?’ I don’t know if it’s the injuries causing that, or what it is. Regardless, I’m just happy to be throwing again.”
Vidal Nuno isn’t a starter anymore, but you wouldn’t know it from his pitch mix. The 28-year-old lefty still throws the kitchen sink at hitters. His repertoire includes two- and four-seam fastballs, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup. On occasion he’ll mix in a slider.
Nuno didn’t pare his repertoire when he moved to the pen, but he did cut down on his runs-allowed ratio. In 49 relief appearances with the Mariners over the past two seasons, his ERA is 1.72.
The former Yankee and Diamondback didn’t have a definitive answer when I asked why he’s been so much better out of the bullpen. He cited a slight uptick in velocity, but his fastball barely reaches 90 and he only throws it a third of the time. Cutters and changeups, the latter of which he refined in Venezuela this past offseason, are his bread and butter.
As for the mental aspect of going from starter to reliever, Nuno doesn’t view it as a demotion. He’s just happy to be wearing a big league uniform.
““I was a 48th-rounder,” rationalized Nuno. “Having that background, I’m going to embrace whatever role I’m given. Whatever I’m asked to do, I’m going to do it, no matter what.”
Andrew Stevenson made adjustments after being selected by the Washington Nationals in the second round of last year’s draft. According to the left-handed-hitting outfielder, his new employer didn’t instigate the change.
“I made a couple of tweaks, but they didn’t really ask me to do anything,” said Stevenson, who played his college ball at LSU. “They didn’t say, ‘You have to do this, you have to do that.’ Our hitting coordinator, Troy Gingrich, is big on what works for you. If you’re comfortable and doing well, he kind of just leaves you alone.
His hitting coaches have been able to keep their distance. In 62 games with high-A Potomac, Stevenson is slashing .296/.351/.403. The self-directed tweak was mechanical in nature.
“It wasn’t my swing, it was more my setup,” explained Stevenson. “My hands had been a little bit lower and I had my back kind of tilted back. Now my hands are a little higher and more straight up, more so than laying the bat down.”
The move was made to help the youngster drive the ball better, but his style remains slash-and-burn. He has seven triples and 25 stolen bases to go with one home run.
“I’m a speed guy and a top of the lineup guy,” said Stevenson. “My focus isn’t to drive guys in — that’s a bonus — it’s to get on base. I want to get on any way I can and steal second.”
Trent Clark held the the bat in an atypical manner prior to being drafted 15th overall by the Milwaukee Brewers last year. Described as “more of a golf grip than a traditional baseball grip” by Baseball America, it nonetheless worked. The 19-year-old outfielder dominated the Texas prep circuit with a lethal left-handed stroke.
The golf grip is no more.
“I dropped my thumbs down,” said Clark. “I’m going with a traditional grip now, because that makes it easier for me to keep my bat in the zone longer, as well as get to inside pitches more efficiently and more consistently. I like how it feels, so I’m going to stay with it.”
Clark, who is spending his first full professional season with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, wasn’t force fed the adjustment.
“We played around with it in instructs, but they never really told me to do it,” explained Clark. “They just kind of loaded my mind with how it would benefit me. It was, ‘We ultimately want you to do what you want to do, but we’re going to tell you what we think. If you want to make the adjustment — if you want to drop them — you can. If you don’t — if you want to hit like that — we’re still behind you.”
Clark heard the suggestion prior to joining the Brewers, but he wasn’t having any of it. You can’t blame him. He batted .555 in his senior year and set a Team USA 18U record with 24 RBIs.
“There are people who want to change your stuff, just to say they helped you along,” opined Clark. “They want to put their name on you. But it’s my career, and my decision. That’s the way I saw it.”
The Twins released David Ortiz following the 2002 season, shortly after his 27th birthday. In 1,693 plate appearances with Minnesota, Ortiz had 58 home runs.
Earlier this week, Minnesota released 25-year-old Oswaldo Arcia. A left-handed hitter with a slugger’s build, Arcia had 40 home runs in 967 plate appearances with the Twins.
Ted Power pitched in 564 games from 1981-1993. Only four of them came as a member of the Tigers. The right-hander — now the pitching coach for the Louisville Bats — was acquired by Detroit from Kansas City at the trade deadline in 1988. He was credited with one win in relief, but otherwise did little for a team that missed a playoff berth by one game.
“I’d had elbow problems,” explained Power, who has coached in the Cincinnati system since 2000. “As it turned out, I needed postseason surgery on my elbow to clean out some calcium buildup. So I didn’t really pitch all that much, or that well, for the Tigers.
Chris Devenski is changeup heavy. The Astros right-hander throws his signature pitch over 30 percent of the time, and for good reason. The offering is largely responsible for the 25-year-old former 25th-round pick reaching the big leagues.
Mark Appel, who has played with Devenski in the minors, told me it’s one of the best he’s ever seen. He said Devenski’s changeup is “like a left-handed curveball, almost a trick pitch.”
According to Devenski, the trickiness isn’t a result of anything unique. He describes his grip as “just a circle, like most of them,’ and while his hands are big, they’re “nothing insane.”
Devenski developed his changeup during his formative years in Cerritos, California. He remembers being “somewhere between 12 and 15 years old” when he threw one to a hitter and got a reaction that told him, “This is a great pitch.” He continued to hone it throughout high school and at Cal State Fullerton, then “threw that pitch a thousand times in my first year of minor league ball.”
Why is his changeup so good?
“I have a feel for it, and I believe in it,” said Devenski. “It’s kind of a combination of late action and bugs bunny action. I throw it like a fastball, and boom.”
Devenski’s pitching coach grew up in a much different era than the players he works with in Houston. That’s especially true when it comes to how we consume the game. Brent Strom was born in1948, which predates not only iPads and the internet; color television wasn’t invented until he was five years old.
“My first recollection of a game on TV was the 1957 Braves playing the Yankees,” said the 67-year-old Strom. “That was on a black-and-white TV. I was actually a big Red Sox fan as a kid. We didn’t have (MLB) baseball on the west coast at that time, and my dad was from Worcester, Mass. I’d have to get the paper every day to see how they did.”
Like any hitter, Tony Oliva had more success against some pitchers than others. Exactly why that was is a question he can’t fully answer. The Minnesota Twins legend wasn’t too concerned with who was on the mound. He was up there hacking.
“I faced so many guys,” Oliva told me this spring. “Some I had luck against and others I didn’t have luck against. But I didn’t care who was pitching. I played every day, so it didn’t matter. Some people don’t want to play against a guy because he’s got an 0 for 20, or a 2 for 25. I didn’t believe in that. If I played, sooner or later I was going to get my base hits. Any pitcher, every single one I played against, I had a chance.”
Oliva didn’t take many walks — he had 448 in 6,880 plate appearances — but he had plenty of base hits. He led the American League in that category five times. When he was hot, he squared up anything near the plate.
“Sometimes you face a team and you’re lucky,” said Oliva. “No matter who pitches, no matter what kind of stuff they have, you hit it good. Other times it’s different. No matter what kind of pitches, no matter what they do, they get you out. But if you play every day, everything evens out.”
Oliva hit .304/.353/.476 from 1962-1976. He won three batting titles and was an All-Star eight times.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At SABR.org, Scott Simkus chronicled the all-time hits leaders. Counting total number of hits in pro ball, including the minor leagues and postseason action, Ichiro now ranks eighth. A few of the names on the list might surprise you.
Speaking of Ichiro, Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post took a look at how the 42-year-old icon is far surpassing preseason projections.
Over at DetroitAthletic.com, Dan Holmes interviewed Hardball Times contributor, and Baseball Hall of Fame employee, Bruce Markusen.
At MLB.com, Chris Landers explored the origins of 11 baseball terms, ‘Can of corn’ and ‘duck snort’ were among them.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
On June 20, 1970, Tigers shortstop Cesar Gutierrez went 7 for 7 as Detroit beat Cleveland 9-8 in 12 innings. All seven of his hits were singles.
On this date in 1989, Doc Gooden was credited with his 100th win. Twenty-four years old at the time, he finished his career with 194 wins.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.