SEATTLE – Nine begins and the strange case of Justin Dunn continues.
The Mariners righty battled his pitch count again on Saturday at T-Mobile Park, but it put Seattle in position for a 3-2 win over Rangers that sealed a straight win over the four-game weekend. This happened one night when he received only one run of support on the hill.
Mitch Haniger’s immediate solo shot in the eighth was the difference to Seattle’s fifth win in their last six games and continued a promising offensive trend after seven weeks at the start of the season.
The Rangers – or more precisely Adolis García, as he played the Mariners all season – made it interesting in game nine by resorting to an infield single and scoring a goal with a sacrificial fly. And Joey Gallo, who represented the bond run, made it to the third base, but Rafael Montero was able to seal the parade.
Dunn only gave up two hits, both singles – both to García – the last to be his final blow. He struck eight and gave up a run, lowered his ERA to 3.18, and extended his American League best streak from 15 straight starts, with three runs or fewer possible. The opposing players now beat .168 against the right-hander, who is the second best in the AL in the AL after Carlos Rodón from Chicago.
“I think the biggest thing is my trial right now,” said Dunn. “I’m very happy with my process, very happy with my routine and the work I’ve done in between [pitching coach Pete Woodworth] and our catchers and do a great job there. And on the field just attacking clubs and getting them to get the ball into play. “
Dunn also threw himself into the sixth inning when his night looked like it might be over after five frames and 89 pitches. That total was largely due to a fourth inning of 31 pitches where he hit his first punch, hit his second, and then went another with an intervening strikeout. Thanks to the defense and weak contact from Texas, Dunn worked his way out of this base-laden one-off traffic jam with a legal run.
“I just got back to pitching,” said Dunn. “I had a little mechanical cue that was there in the fourth and sat down and kind of went back into my thoughts and let me reset and realized what that was. And I’ve only just moved on to attacking the strike zone and primarily throwing it. I’m glad I found it and survived the fifth there and helped us get a little deeper into the game. “
It was all a very similar subject for Dunn, who once again flashed some formidable breaking balls – make your pick, the curve and the slider were both as sharp as ever on Saturday – and more than 95 mph heat with life. But the 25-year-old was shy again about throwing six innings, a threshold he hasn’t reached since September 6th last year.
Granted, Dunn has been a vastly improved pitcher since he went this deep last time, and despite some of his hiccups, he’s shown concrete steps forward – like putting yourself in a trustworthy position to go out for the sixth time – one Opportunity that may have only been presented to him in the last month.
“I think we just know he’s going to keep you in the ball game,” said Scott Servais, Mariners manager Sometimes figuring out where we’re going is a struggle. But with young starters it is very gratifying as they grow, if we can keep these guys healthy and keep them learning so much. “
Of course, the increased number of pitches in the fourth on Saturday played a big part, but now he’s thrown 45 1/3 innings over nine starts this season, an average of just over five per.
According to standard and advanced metrics, Dunn ranks first or second among all Mariners who start pitchers in almost every statistical category – with the exception of innings.
ERA + (parking neutral): 117 (1st, entering Saturday)
“Done,” Dunn said of his mentality, which was going back for the sixth time. “I’m very grateful to have reached this point in the game and the most important thing was to finish the game. Got there a couple of times this year and couldn’t finish and couldn’t do it again tonight. But I was a lot closer and felt really good about where I was, and I just want to keep taking these steps. Take away that one inning there on the fourth and get better and better and delve into ball games. But overall I was very happy with the result. “