July 6, 2022

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Off to strong start, Bundy spoils Boston's fun

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BOSTON — As some of the world’s greatest distance runners crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon a mile away from Fenway Park, Dylan Bundy ensured that hitters would have no such success on their treks around the bases.

In the return of Boston’s annual Patriots’ Day game the morning of the Boston Marathon, Bundy was stingy for a second straight start. After five strong innings against the Mariners last week, the veteran right-hander twirled 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball at Fenway, while a patient Minnesota lineup drew seven walks around him to pave the way for an 8-3 victory that secured a split of the four-game series in Boston.

A potential bounceback from Bundy, the Angels’ Opening Day starter last season, should be a contributing factor to helping this Minnesota pitching staff push toward a better outcome of its boom-or-bust construction — and two starts in, he looks much closer to his old self.

Does he feel that way, too?

“So far,” he said with a smile.

When the Twins signed Bundy following an injury-shortened 2021 during which he pitched to a 6.06 ERA, they hoped there was still untapped potential in both the four-seam fastball and slider that headlined his diverse pitch mix. That tracked with the veteran’s performance against the Red Sox, during which he recorded two of his six strikeouts with the heater and three with the slider that has served him so well — particularly when he posted a 3.29 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 65 2/3 frames during the shortened ‘20 season.

He recorded 13 total whiffs in his Monday start, a mark he reached only four times among his 23 appearances in ‘21.

“He was in total control of everything that he was doing again today,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That’s a winning effort from him all the way around. We felt no matter what was going on in that game that he was just going to find a way to make some pitches. … I think the offspeed stuff is stuff that he’s going to continue to mix.”

Including the five scoreless innings in which he allowed one hit to the Mariners a week ago, Bundy has now allowed one run and six hits in 10 1/3 frames, the first Twins starter to go at least five innings and allow no more than one earned run in his first two appearances for the team since Fernando Romero in 2018.

In that start against Seattle, Bundy retired eight in a row at one point. Against the Red Sox on Monday, he set down 10 in a row from the first inning to the end of the fourth.

It’ll be even more encouraging for the Twins if rotation-mate Chris Archer can similarly build on a strong Minnesota debut (four scoreless frames against the Dodgers) during the club’s series opener in Kansas City on Tuesday.

Minnesota entered the day with the fifth-best starters’ ERA in the American League (3.12). Following Bundy’s outing, cleaned up by a nicely-executed rundown and escaped jam by reliever Joe Smith, that number dipped even further to 2.96. While the offense has slumbered for much of the start of the season, the Twins are still reasonably solvent at 4-6 due in large part to this uncertainty-ridden rotation’s ability to keep them in the game day after day.

That offense finally found its footing on Monday, too, as Jorge Polanco led the way with four RBIs on a two-run blast over the Green Monster in the third and a two-run single in the eighth, cashing in a string of well-contested plate appearances leading to four eighth-inning walks by Red Sox reliever Kutter Crawford.

“Sometimes, you have to just force the action,” Baldelli said. “Sometimes you literally have to put together about seven good at-bats or eight good at-bats in a row to make it happen.”

Could this be the start of the offense’s long-awaited resurgence — particularly if Byron Buxton could be back on the field sooner than expected? That’s what the Twins hope. But regardless of what the offense does, the fortunes of this team will remain highly dependent on Bundy and his rotation mates, who were the biggest question mark of this roster entering the year.

They’ve accepted that challenge.

“Every one of us is hungry to go out there and compete,” Bundy said. “Compete with each other as well. Any time you can kind of compete against your starting staff, it makes every one of us better. That’s what we’ve got going forward.”

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