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The Great Dane: What’s helping Dunning find success as a starter for the Rangers?

Photo: Ben Ludeman/Texas Rangers

The Great Dane: What’s helping Dunning find success as a starter for the Rangers?

Dane Dunning had two goals to start the season: to make the team and to start. The first item he checked off the list by making the club coming out of Spring Training. He didn’t quite achieve the second goal until Jacob deGrom hit the injured list at the end of April. However, that time in the bullpen benefited Dunning into becoming one of the Rangers’ best-starting pitchers in the past three weeks.

“I kind of carried a little bit of that mentality from the bullpen into that starting role,” Dunning told me. “Just letting my pitches rip and kind of going from there.” Dunning is coming off a six-inning and one-run performance against a powerhouse offense in the Atlanta Braves. It’s Dane’s second quality start against Atlanta in two seasons. While his command was a little off (though his velocity on his sinker hit 92 a few times), he attributed the success to Mike Maddux’s game planning and Jonah Heim’s work behind the plate.

“[Jonah] makes you feel comfortable when you’re on the mound,” Dunning said. “He was able to utilize my pitches and be able to get through the order a couple of times. ”

What’s attributing to Dane Dunning’s 2023 success? First, he’s healthier than he’s been in a Rangers uniform. “My first year, I used to think I just had back pain, [but] was really my hip. Then year two, I knew it was there [and] I tried the best I could to go through that, but there were days where it just hurt all the time. Getting [the surgery] done was probably one of the better decisions that I’ve ever done.”

Dunning said he can drive down the mound cleaner, and his extension is further in 2023 because he can stay down on his legs and get through the ball. Jonah Heim talked about Dane not second his guessing his body this season and focusing on command.

“If something’s not right with your body, you don’t want to overdo it,” Heim told me. “As an athlete, when you got something going on like [the hip injury], it’s always in the back of your mind. For [Dane], with that being fixed and feeling great, that’s not even a thought, and he can focus on competing and executing.”

Second to Dane Dunning’s success is the execution and command of his pitches. “Since Spring Training, he’s been a consistent strike thrower,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s got movement, deception, command on both sides, can work the edges, [and] pitching very efficiently. He has a good carry at the ball at times.”

Dunning mentioned to me that at the start of the season, he lost some feel to his sinker, so he and Heim played off his cutter more which equaled successful results, and now he can work off both the sinker and cutter (he got two swings and misses off both pitches in Tuesday’s game vs. the Braves).

I asked Bochy if he had a comparison between Dane and a pitcher he managed in his 26 years. He brought up Yusmerio Petit, who played for the Giants between 2012-2015, although they both have different pitching styles. “[Petit] was really the most valuable guy on the staff because he was a long guy you can use late in the game [or] a spot start. He didn’t miss a beat and was very valuable [for] the ball club.”

After four seasons with San Francisco, Petit went to Washington in 2016. Coincidently, the Nationals drafted Dunning in the first round that year. That said, Petit and Dunning never crossed paths as Washington traded Dane to the White Sox, and Petit moved on to the Angels. “I’ll take it,” Dunning chuckled when I told him about Bochy’s comparison. “I try to do the best I can and then try to throw the ball to the target and go from there.”

It isn’t easy to pinpoint who the best Rangers starter is at this point in the season. Nathan Eovaldi had his 29.2-inning scoreless streak snapped Tuesday, though he finished the night with a quality start. Jon Gray is working on a 14.2-inning scoreless streak. Andrew Heaney has had quality starts in four of his last five outings, and Martín Pérez had a successful April, though he is having a rough May.

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that Dane Dunning is making a case to stay in the rotation even when Jacob deGrom returns. For Dane, it’s all about building momentum and taking it one start at a time.

“It’s been a really fun ride so far, and try to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Rangers Injury Status:

On Tuesday, Rangers General Manager Chris Young provided some injury status to a few Rangers players.

  • Kumar Rocker tore a ligament in his last start and will have Tommy John Surgery in the upcoming days.
  • Jacob deGrom (right elbow inflammation) threw a light side bullpen Tuesday and is making progress, but still no timetable for his return.
  • Travis Jankowski (right hamstring strain) ran on Tuesday and is trending in the right direction. The hope is to have Jankowski in rehab this weekend, and we will take the following steps after that.
  • Aaron Zavala (torn UCL) played Wednesday for Frisco and went 2 for 4 with a run scored. He won’t be in the outfield daily; he’ll DH and have his off days.
  • Spencer Howard (right lat strain) and Glenn Otto (right shoulder strain) continue to progress in their rehabs. Howard has thrown multiple live BPs while Otto is behind Spencer in the rehab process.
  • Brett Martin (left shoulder surgery) was at Globe Life Field on Wednesday. He says he’s feeling good and is prepping to go to Arizona for rehab during the summer.
  • Mitch Garver (left knee sprain) continued to catch pregame and live batting practice. The target remains for Garver to go on a rehab next week and then activated after that.

Credentialed Media Staff Writer covering the Texas Rangers for Dallas Sports Fanatic | 2014 University of North Texas graduate with a Bachelor's in Radio, Television, and Film. I talk about things. Find me on the tweeter @aplinckTX

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