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AL East Beat: April 10th

Baltimore Orioles

Dylan Bundy was anointed the de facto ace of the pitching staff when he was picked to start on opening day.

So far in the young season, the 25-year-old right-hander has pitched like an ace. The only problem, though, has been Bundy hasn’t gotten much help from his teammates.

Bundy is 0-1 through three starts despite a sparkling 1.35 ERA. He has also held opponents to a .197 batting average while striking out 25 and walking five in 20 innings.

“He’s taken a step up in every facet of the game,” a scout said. “He’s attacking the strike zone. He is really starting to understand that his stuff is good enough to get anybody out and he’s not shying away from attacking hitters.

“The big thing, though, is will he stay healthy? For me, that’s the only thing that can hold him back.”

Bundy took the loss Monday night against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays despite allowing just two runs and four hits in seven innings. He had 10 strikeouts and two walks.

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However, Bundy refuses to bemoan his lack of offensive support. Instead, he was disappointed Monday night about giving up a two-run home run to former Orioles teammate Steve Pearce in the third inning that opened the scoring and proved to be the winning hit as the Blue Jays went on to an 7-1 victory.

“Up there I really wasn’t thinking he was going to swing 3-0, and he did,” Bundy told reporters. “And I left it right down the middle for him to hit over the fence. Just a mistake I made and a costly one, 2-1 there. You have to learn from your mistakes.”

A sign that Bundy is continuing to mature as a pitcher was that he went seven innings. The Orioles needed the length after playing two extra-inning games against the Yankees at New York over the weekend, winning in 14 innings on Friday night and 12 innings on Sunday afternoon.

Compounding matters for the Orioles coming into Monday night’s game was that Steven Wright Jr. had lasted just 2/3 of an inning in his start Sunday.

“He was outstanding in a time of need,” manager Buck Showalter said of Bundy. “He knew what was at stake. That was much appreciated by the bullpen, for sure, but we certainly would have liked to reward his effort (with a win).”

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox will have to make do without shortstop Xander Bogaerts, whose hot start came to abrupt halt when he cracked a bone in his left ankle Sunday during a victory over the visiting Tampa Bay Rays while sliding into the dugout in chasing an errant throw.

The good news, though, is that the injury is a non-displaced fracture and Bogaerts is expected to miss than two weeks. The 25-year-old is hitting .368/.400/.711 with two home runs and an AL-leading seven doubles in nine games.

Infielder Tzu-Wei Lin was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket to take Bogaerts’ roster spot. However, second baseman Eduardo Nunez is expected to slide over to shortstop while utility man Brock Holt sees the majority of playing time at the keystone.

Nunez has started 230 games at shortstop, his most at any position during his nine-year career. However, he has minus-41 defensive runs saved.

Meanwhile, Holt has made just 22 starts at short in seven seasons and has minus-3 DRS.

“I feel comfortable at shortstop, second base, third base — pretty much anywhere,” Holt told reporters. “It’s a tough team to crack the lineup. I hate to see (Bogaerts) get injured but I feel like I can step in and do a good job.”

Lin made his major league debut with the Red Sox last season, five years after being signed from Taiwan as international amateur free agent. The 24-year-old batted .268/.369/.339 in 25 games, making six starts at both third base and shortstop as well as three at second base.

New York Yankees

Giancarlo Stanton isn’t the first player to get off to a rocky start with the Yankees. Manager Aaron Boone knows that from experience, which is why he isn’t concerned that the slugging left fielder has struggled in the early days of the season.

Acquired from the Miami Marlins in an offseason trade after winning the National League MVP award last season, Stanton is hitting .167/.271/.429 with three home runs in 10 games. Two of the homers came in the season-opening victory over the Blue Jays on March 29 at Toronto.

Stanton also leads the AL with 20 strikeouts, including a pair of five-whiff games. Stanton had never struck out five times in a game in his previous 11 professional seasons, including eight in the major leagues.

Boone was traded to the Yankees from the Cincinnati Reds in July 2003 and hit .125/.143/.146 with no homers in his first 13 games. However, he also hit a walk-off home run in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series that year to beat the Red Sox and propel the Yankees to the World Series.

“You’re coming into a new situation,” Boone told reporters. “If you don’t get off right away, that’s just something you have to deal with as a big leaguer and I feel quite certain that he will and before long it will be an old story.”

Stanton heard his share of boos Sunday at Yankee Stadium. He went 0-for-7 with five punchouts and stranded runners at the Yankees lost to the Orioles 9-7 in 12 innings.

“They’re not going to cheer for that, so what do you expect?” Stanton told reporters. “Just got to look at it as a bad week. Season is much longer than a week.”

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays haven’t had much to celebrate in the early part of the season as they are 2-8.

While they ended an eight-game losing streak Monday with a 5-4 victory over the White Sox at Chicago, the Rays did so without center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. He arrived in the Rays’ clubhouse Monday morning wearing a walking boot on his right foot.

Kiermaier sustained a bone bruise on the foot Sunday when he fouled a pitch off it in the loss to the Red Sox. He is confident he can avoid a stint on the DL, though.

“All the right treatment, and rest, and I’ll be back out there as soon as possible,” Kiermaier told reporters. “I definitely dodged a bullet with this one, because I’m way too familiar with breaking bones the last couple of years.”

Kiermaier missed seven weeks in 2016 with a broken left hand. Last season, he sat out six weeks with a fractured right hip.

The Rays were able to cover Kiermaier’s loss Monday as right fielder Carlos Gomez moved to center field. Reserve outfield Mallex Smith played right field and tied a career high in hits by going 4-for-4 with a triple.

Nevertheless, manager Kevin Cash knows how much Kiermaier, a two-time Gold Glover, means to the Rays.

“It’s challenging without him because he’s such a big part of us offensively, defensively,” Cash said. “Hopefully it’s a day-to-day thing.”

Toronto Blue Jays

Josh Donaldson figures to be one of the most attractive players on the free-agent market next winter, perhaps the third-best hitter following Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper and Orioles shortstop Manny Machado.

Donaldson provided the game-breaking hit for the Blue Jays on Monday night in their win over the Orioles. The third baseman’s grand slam — the fourth of his career — off rookie reliever Nestor Cortes, Jr. extended the Blue Jays lead to 7-1.

Through 11 games, the 32-year-old Donaldson has done nothing to hurt his free-agent stock as he is hitting .238/.347/.476 with three home runs.

However, Donaldson insists he is not looking ahead to free agency. The Blue Jays are off to a 7-4 start and he would love nothing more than to help them reach the World Series for the first time since 1992 after they lost in the American League Championship Series to the Kansas City Royals in 2015 and the Cleveland Indians in 2016.

The Blue Jays are third in the major leagues in runs scored with an average of 5.36 a game. Their pitching staff is tied for 16th with a 3.86 ERA.

“We’ve been able to fight, score runs late in games,” Donaldson told reporters. “Our starting pitching and bullpen have been keeping us in games and throwing up zeroes in order for us to score runs. I’ve been very impressed by how we’ve been able to go out there, put some good at-bats together and score some runs late.”

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John Perrotto

John Perrotto has been a professional sports writer since 1982 and has covered a multitude of sports, including MLB, NFL and college football and basketball. He has been a member of the Baseball Writers' Association since 1988, a Hall of Fame voter since 1997 and has covered 21 World Series and two Super Bowls. He is a graduate of Geneva College, the birthplace of college basketball, and lives in Beaver Falls, Pa., the hometown of Joe Willie Namath. He also writes The Perrotto Report (theperrottoreport.com), newsletters that concentrate on Major League Baseball and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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