The remedy to the Angels’ recent bullpen woes came bounding eagerly up the steps of the team’s dugout Thursday afternoon and onto the field like a ginger-haired labrador retriever before the ninth inning.
A starting pitcher ready to go the distance.
Dylan Bundy, the fourth overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, showed that a change of scenery may be finally unlocking all his great potential.
Bundy fired a complete-game four-hitter with no walks and 10 strikeouts as the Angels got their first series win of 2020 with a 6-1 decision over the Mariners at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park.
It was a delight for Angels manager Joe Maddon to not have to turn to his currently malfunctioning bullpen.
“Beautiful display of pitching — really, really well done,” Maddon said. “He just has that kind of repertoire. It’s not just brute force.”
Bundy needed only 107 pitches, 76 for strikes, to polish off the first complete game for the Angels since Andrew Heaney threw a one-hit shutout on June 5, 2018.
Said Bundy: “You don’t always know what to do, as a starting pitcher, after you get that last out. I was really wanting to get the last out, and it worked out today.”
The Mariners got their only damage off Bundy when Seattle designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach drove a solo homer into the right field bleachers in the fourth off a changeup that Bundy left over the plate too much.
By that time, the Angels had already staked Bundy to a 4-0 lead.
Shohei Ohtani, his dreams of being a two-way player scotched last week after a slight tear to his pitching forearm, put the Angels on top 1-0 with an opposite-field homer as the Halos’ DH in the second.
The Angels bunched together three runs in the fourth against Seattle right-hander Taijuan Walker, with RBIs on a single by Tommy LaStella, a hit by pitch to Justin Upton and a sacrifice fly by Max Stassi.
Stassi, a catcher known most for his elite defense and framing, continued his early tear at the plate. He belted his fourth homer of the year — tying Mike Trout for the team lead — in the eighth inning.
After batting only .167 last season, the light-hitting Stassi has adjusted his swing and he’s now batting .333 with 9 RBI.
But the big story for Maddon and the Angels was Bundy. The Oklahoman with the Wyatt Earp mustache is an MLB veteran at age 27, but hasn’t yet reached the lofty ceiling of a No. 4 selection.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler and Maddon thought a switch from the homer-happy AL East would benefit Bundy and the Angels acquired him from the Baltimore Orioles in a package for four minor leaguers.
It’s early, but Bundy is starting to look a lot like the staff-fronting “ace” the Angels thought they might have in Ohtani before the Japanese star’s latest injury.
Bundy isn’t overpowering, but he is a cerebral pitcher, using all four of his pitches with masterful command on Thursday.
After spring training and the second summer camp, it was clear that Bundy had changed tactics in his attack on hitters.
On the season, Bundy has used his fastball only 33.7 percent of the time, preferring to mix everything up with his premium secondary pitches. On Thursday, he threw less than 40 percent fastballs, featuring a blend of sliders to right-handed batters and changeups to lefties.
“He had it written all over him all day,” Maddon said. “He throws a fastball, curveball, slider, changeup. And he has commanded all of them. He’s able to throw them for strikes and then he’s able to elevate when he wants to.”
Bundy said last season in Baltimore he started experimenting more with different pitches to righties and lefties.
“But I don’t think I was using it the right way,” he said.
Thursday, it was on point. Other than Vogelbach’s homer, Bundy produced almost entirely soft contact or strikeouts, retiring 17 of the last 18 batters he faced.
After three starts, Bundy leads the Angels’ staff with an ace-like 2.08 ERA. He’s thrown 21.2 innings (tied for the MLB lead with Cleveland’s Shane Bieber), allowing only 11 hits, with only 2 walks and 25 strikeouts.
Angels shortstop David Fletcher worked some more defensive magic in the ninth. With one out, Vogelbach rifled a hot liner at Angels second baseman Luis Rengifo, the ball richocheting off Rengifo’s glove. But Fletcher, positioned on the shift in shallow right field, scooped up the bouncing ball and fired to first for an unusual 4-6-3 single putout.
By taking the rubber game in Seattle, the Angels bounced back to 5-8 on the season and traded spots in the standings with the now last-place Mariners.
In Texas on Friday, Griffin Canning is expected to be the Angels starting pitcher as the Angels open a weekend series with the last-place Rangers at their new Globe Life .