Dylan Bundy is confident he can be the dominant pitcher he was before an elbow injury interupted a promising start to his professional career.
The 21-year-old - on the cusp of pitching in his first game since 2012 - spoke on Thursday at Ripken Stadium, home of the Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds and his new home for at least the next few weeks. He said his arm feels great, and he's eager to make his first start Sunday on the road against the Hudson Valley Renegades.
"I feel like I can be the same as I used to be," Bundy said. "It just takes time."
Bundy, the No. 4 overall MLB draft pick in 2011 and the Orioles' top prospect according to Baseball America, has spent the last year recovering from Tommy John surgery. His original target to return to the mound was June 28, a year after surgery, but he's two weeks ahead of schedule. He said he could pitch for the Orioles this season, but his focus is on proving himself again and regaining his comfort on the mound. Facing live hitters in a game is something he's wanted to do for months.
"I just want to get through my rehab process healthy and then get out there competing again," Bundy said. "Everything else will take care of itself." Bundy said he expects to make three or four starts with Aberdeen, but he's not sure how long he'll stay with the team. He has not pitched more than four innings or thrown more than 72 pitches at a time since his injury, but he'll be streched to five innings or 75 pitches - whichever comes first - on Sunday.
He said he no longer thinks much about his arm when he's pitching and, after a year, is back to the place where he feels most comfortable - the mound.
"He's kind of getting the chains unleashed," IronBirds manager Matt Merullo said.
Bundy said the most difficult part of the rehab was the first month after he had the surgery. He'd go for walks just to get some fresh air and not stay barricaded in his apartment.
"It's tough laying around," he said. "Especially me, I don't like to lay around the couch all day."
After the first month, the recovery process went smoothly, he said. Bundy was finally able to ride a bike and exercise a little bit. He worked out with his brother, Bobby - who is also rehabbing from elbow surgery - in Sarasota, Fla.
Bundy said his fastball reached 94 mph in his past two four-inning starts in extended spring training, and that his fastball command the last two starts was better than it was in the first three.
As for his secondary pitches, he said they're better now than they were at the end of his first year in pro-ball, when he was in Double-A and got called up to the big leagues.
"Maybe not the tightest spin or the depth that I want," Bundy said, "but as far as locating, I feel a lot better about it."
Part of him wants to breeze through the starts as quickly as he can, but part of him knows he should take things slowly. He wants to look at the results because he's competitive, but knows the process is more important.
Said Bundy: "As long as I go out there and pitch my game and my arm is fine, I'll be happy."