We’ve seen all kinds of debuts from top prospects, especially recently, but on Wednesday, we had one really special game with the Detroit Tigers against the Chicago White Sox.
The Tigers were debuting Casey Mize, and that was really the big news of this game and the big news of the past few days. If you want to see Nick’s breakdown of Mize’s debut, check it out here. But for the White Sox, we got to see the debut of Dane Dunning, and there was a lot to like.
If you’re not familiar with Dunning, he was the 29th overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, selected by the Washington Nationals. The Nats traded him to the White Sox alongside Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez for Adam Eaton back in 2018. Dunning looked on the verge of reaching the majors but missed the last two months of the 2018 season with a strained elbow and ended up missing all of last year after getting Tommy John surgery in March 2019.
But now, here, at long last, we see what Dane Dunning has as a pitcher. Here’s what I saw.
You’re a rookie pitching in your MLB debut, so what do you throw? A fastball makes sense, and that’s what Dunning does to Jeimer Candelario.
WELCOME TO THE MAJORS BAY-BEE. Dunning throws a perfectly solid two-seam fastball down and in and Candelario takes ahold of it and smacks it for a double. Not the best way to start your debut.
Dunning then faces Niko Goodrum and throws another fastball that just barely misses the zone. But then, we get to see this bad boy:
Dunning whips out his changeup and it’s a pretty one, making Goodrum go golfing. According to the scouting reports coming into the game, the changeup isn’t Dunning’s primary putaway pitch, but if he can command a change that looks like that, he’s got himself a very nice third pitch.
After Goodrum fouls off a fastball away, Dunning comes up high with a four-seam fastball and earns his first major league strikeout.
I want to pause here and say, I like this sequencing. First, we see that Dunning is confident enough in his fastball to throw 1-2 for a strikeout, and second, we see Dunning going up and down, changing Goodrum’s eye level with his pitches. He goes from the changeup down, a fastball away, and then a fastball up. He’s moving around the zone, I’m digging it.
With the first pitch against Miguel Cabrera, we get the first look at a pitch Dunning is going to use a lot. To me, it looks like a curveball, Statcast classifies it as a slider, so I’m not 100% clear on exactly what it is. But for our purposes, let’s call it his curveball.
Admittedly, not a great first showing of the pitch, but trust me when I tell you it gets much better. After swinging and missing on a high fastball, Cabrera hits a pop up on curveball Dunning hung out to dry for out number two.
Honestly, he’s lucky a pop-up is all Cabrera did with that pitch, because that could’ve easily ended up in the seats.
Dunning starts off Jonathan Schoop’s at-bat with a curveball that got way away from him, allowing the runner to advance to third.
If there’s a consistent problem with Dunning that I saw this whole game, it’s control, and you see exhibit A of it right there. That was supposed to be a low-middle curveball and it goes way outside. Dunning then tossed another curveball that he hung over the middle of the plate, but luckily for him, it just resulted in a groundout by Schoop, and with that, Dunning is out of his first major league inning.
Dunning’s sequence to start off the second inning against Victor Reyes is really interesting to me. After getting behind 2-0 missing with two fastballs high, Dunning decides “I’m going to get a high fastball for a strike whether you like it or not.”
Then, what does he do? Let’s toss one more fastball up high for another strike, why not?
And then, like he’s Steve Winwood in 1986, Dunning’s back in the high life again, throwing another high fastball to get the strikeout.
Remember, this is a guy who’s got two very good breaking balls, and he spends this entire at-bat throwing high fastballs. I don’t mind it, I appreciate that he’s not a one-trick pony and feels confident in his fastball, but hopefully that approach doesn’t happen too often.
Dunning then faces Jorge Bonifacio, and after a foul ball and a nice curveball on the corner, Dunning loses another curveball that Zack Collins fortunately blocks and then tosses a high fastball for a ball to get to 2-2. But then, we get this:
There’s that curveball in all of it’s glory, dropping down hard and making Bonifacio look stupid. That pitch right there is why Dunning is in the majors. If he can consistently command that pitch (and as we’ve seen already, that’s not a given), it’s an absolutely filthy strikeout pitch.
After Bonifacio, Dunning faces JaCoby Jones who ends up grounding out to third on a high curveball.
Dunning started off the third with a low curveball he missed for a ball and followed it up with a nice sinker right on the black of the low, outside corner of the zone. Then, he hit nearly the same spot again with another fastball to get a called strike two, and followed it with another beautiful curveball.
Grayson Greiner pretty clearly thought that was coming in the zone until it dropped right out, but it was too late, and Dunning logged his fourth strikeout of the night. Again, this pitch is nasty when Dunning controls it, that breaker will play anywhere anytime against anyone.
After getting behind 1-0 to Isaac Paredes, Dunning floats a two-seamer up high for a called strike.
Yes, we’ve seen a few of these already but that’s the most movement I’ve seen on one of his two-seamers yet and I love it. If that kind of movement can be there consistently, that’s a pretty fastball.
After getting Paredes to swing at a high and away fastball, Dunning comes back to the curveball, and it’s another beauty.
Great sequencing here, he throws a fastball high and in, another high and away, and finishes Paredes off with a curve low and away—that’s a great way to attack a batter.
But wait! There’s more! Candelario comes up to bat and Dunning throws him a high and away fastball that he swings and misses. Then, another curveball, low-middle, another swing and miss, and again, we see how fantastic this curveball looks.
Dunning then goes back up high and away with a fastball that Candelario lays off of for a ball, but if you’ve been paying attention, you probably know what Dunning did next.
Arguably the prettiest curveball of the night. Again, I love the approach, high-low-high-low, a bit of the BSB, and it worked wonders this inning, especially in the Candelario at-bat where Dunning’s curveball was working like magic.
Dunning got himself to an 0-2 count to start the fourth inning, but after throwing a curve in the dirt and missing on a fastball high, he was at a 2-2 count and threw this:
I love that pitch. It was called a ball, but man was it right on the border. That’s a beautiful pitch either way. Luckily for Dunning, at a 3-2 count, Goodrum hit a fastball for a flyball out.
Then, after working Cabrera to a 2-2 count, Dunning was almost gifted with some light head trauma.
It’s also worth noting that in getting to the 2-2 count, we started to see Dunning’s control issues sneak back in, as the two balls came on a curveball in the dirt and a fastball that Collins was luckily able to reach up and save before it went past him.
Schoop comes up and works to a 2-0 count before hitting a blooper to the outfield for a single on a hung changeup. It was cool to see Dunning bring the changeup back, but it was not located well at all and he’s lucky Schoop only got a single on it.
We then see some more control problems pop up against Reyes as Dunning nearly hits Reyes with a curveball, then nearly loses a changeup high and, after Reyes fouls off a fastball, nearly loses another pitch with a fastball. After battling to a 3-2 count Dunning lays a fastball over the middle of the plate, which Reyes takes advantage of and gets to first with Schoop advancing to third.
Dunning then works to another full count against Bonifacio before dropping regaining control of his curve and dropping another beautiful strikeout
Good on Dunning to have the confidence to throw that pitch in a full count with two runners in scoring position, it worked wonderfully and he got out of the inning relatively unscathed.
Dunning got ahead 0-2 to start the fifth inning before totally missing on a curveball that Jones was able to hit for an infield single (Tim Anderson kind of bobbled the ball a little but ultimately it wasn’t ruled an error on his part).
Then, Dunning nearly got blasted in the head yet again, but was saved by his cat-like reflexes.
After his second near-death experience in one game, Dunning walked Paredes on four-straight pitches and was credited with an error after a pickoff throw to first missed Jose Abreu. After all that, Dunning got a mound visit. I’m surprised he wasn’t taken out at that point, his control was clearly waning, but I’m guessing they wanted to give him one more shot.
That sort of backfired though, because after getting ahead to Candelario 0-1, this happened.
Admittedly, not a horrible pitch, but not a great one either, and Candelario laid into it for a three-run home run. After that, Dunning’s MLB debut was over.
I think there’s a whole lot to like about this debut. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but Dunning showed off a nice repertoire, some confidence in his pitches, and a good plan of attack for batters.
He alternated between his two-seam and four-seam fastball, both floated around 92 MPH, which isn’t great but isn’t a dealbreaker either. The two-seamer had pretty nice movement, the four-seamer didn’t impress me all that much, but it can work as a setup pitch. I do love that he generally threw his fastballs high, I always want to see that in a pitcher, and he was pretty consistently throwing fastballs high with breakers low.
Speaking of his breakers, color me very impressed by what he’s got. While he definitely had some control problems with his curveball, when it was on, it was beautiful. That’s going to be a devastating strikeout pitch if he can fairly consistently control that, and when he’s using his fastballs up in the zone to set it up, he’s going to log a good number of strikeouts.
I really dug his changeup too, I wish we could’ve seen it more, he only threw it a total of five times. But as we saw in the first inning when he first tossed out that changeup, it can look really nice, and it looks to be another plus breaker in his repertoire.
Overall, I like Dunning. Solid approach to hitters, a beauty of a curveball and a changeup that looks like it’s got serious potential. If the White Sox choose to keep him around in the rotation, I’ll be paying close attention to his other starts, because there’s definitely some great potential in him.
Good breakdown Ben, thanks. He needs a wider spread between his fastballs and changeups. With only 6 mph difference, they may not be effective complimentary pitches.
Thanks! And yea, I’d like to see a bit more velocity than 92 on average, but if he’s got good movement on the two-seamer and the movement on his change that we saw in the first inning, that might make up for the lack of velocity difference