Dane Dunning will be back, albeit not right away

It’d been more than two years since Dane Dunning last threw a pitch in anger, at least in a way that we could see and analytics systems could track.

Everybody and everything should have liked what they saw on Wednesday night, at least for four innings.

Much like Zack Burdi, Dunning’s debut might have been delayed, and an emergency might have necessitated his presence, but no matter how it happened, he looked ready for the moment. including every line drive that intended to rearrange his teeth.

He challenged an underwhelming Detroit lineup to meet his energy, and Jeimer Candelario is the only one that did on a reliable basis. Unfortunately, one of Candelario’s swings resulted in a three-run homer that ended Dunning’s night, and briefly put him in line for the loss.

In a must-win situation — and Wednesday’s game didn’t qualify as such — Rick Renteria should have pulled Dunning after the fourth. He barely got out of that inning alive, his release point had dropped, his fastball and slider both started sailing, and the velocity of both pitches had tailed off. A rest in the dugout failed to give him a boost. Statcast says he topped out at 92.2 mph on his five fastballs in the fifth inning, when he’d averaged 92.9 mph on his heaters in the first inning.

Dunning admitted as such, saying on the Zoom call after the game, “I felt really good throughout the entire outing, more or less. Later on, I felt like I was getting a little tired. I was missing spots a little bit more.”

Renteria saw the same thing.

“In the fourth, obviously, he got into a little bit of a deeper count,” Renteria said. “It got a little heavier in the fifth in terms of his command, maybe tiring a little bit, was elevating pitches, wasn’t as in the zone.”

So if they all saw it, then why didn’t they do anything about it? Or, if you trust that everybody is a professional with a reason for what they’re doing, what did they want to get out of it?

It’s not immediately apparent, because Renteria wouldn’t lock in Dunning for another start just yet. The White Sox have two off days next week, meaning they can skip their fifth starter and still give the other four an extra day of rest. The return of Reynaldo López also looms, although one can question which one gives them a better opportunity for the win. Either way, Dunning theoretically* won’t be back for 10 days, because the White Sox optioned him to Schaumburg this morning.

(*Injuries can allow a player to be a called up before the option period expires, so any caveats should be apparent.)

Whether it’s because Dunning will be needed later rather than sooner, or because he’ll have an opportunity for a generous recovery period, the White Sox might’ve seen some value in pushing him in a competitive environment that Schaumburg won’t provide. Dunning’s pitch count reflected no apparent taxing, although nothing’s a real strong argument against injury risk this year besides Michael Kopech’s strategy.

Knocking on wood, he’s likely not one-and-Dunning, so if and when he returns to take more starts this season, he’s at least set a level of expectations for himself. He’s not going to strike out 37 percent of the batters he faces from here on out, but he should be able to compete against better lineups, especially when he can throw that hammer curve in any count. Dunning’s not as renowned for his breaking ball as several previous White Sox prospects, but he showed an immediate aptitude for throwing sharp hooks in the majors, unlike López, Lucas Giolito, Carson Fulmer, and even Dylan Cease.

Stamina is going to be the bigger issue, especially against teams that can make him work a little harder. I wouldn’t count on Schaumburg being able to turn him into a six-inning guy this season. The White Sox can still use less. I just imagine the best strategy involves Ross Detwiler, and his usage pattern still confuses me, as he’s thrown just three single low-leverage innings over the last fortnight and change.

What Renteria thinks of Detwiler is a discussion for another day. What Renteria thought of Dunning’s debut is a little more clear, telling reporters, “For his first outing in the big leagues? Very, very, very, very good outing for him.”

Who knows exactly when Renteria and the White Sox will come calling for a second start. For now, Dunning did his part. He made it clear that if a rotation spot remains vacant the next time all five starters are required, giving him another look is the smartest move available.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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I wish they could have kept him up and stacked him with Gio Gonzalez. Let Dunning throw the first 4 innings, then let Gio throw the final 5. At least for Gio’s next outing.


Yep, it almost makes too much sense to pair him with Gio or Detwiller. Either pairing should be good for 7 strong innings


Gonna be interesting to see how the sox play it. What amount of rope are guys like Gonzalez, Lopez, and Rodon gonna be given when it appears a very viable option is there in Dunning.


Gotta wonder if Rodon would be open to an 8th inning role. If he could show he could make that work for a few weeks this season, you could pencil him in for that role in 2021. I’m guessing he’s going to continue to want to keep trying to start, but I think there is a really valuable role for a guy with his slider in the back of a bullpen.


One side note: 538 gives us an 84 percent chance of making the playoffs


The numbers are updated each day.

Joliet Orange Sox

I’m not sure I would put any stock in ratings that do not rank the Cubs as the best team. Do they not know David Ross is now managing the Cubs and dominance is guaranteed? 😉


Fangraphs has them at 90.2%


It’s interesting how bifurcated the AL is in Fangraph’s odds. The Sox are the 7th best team and have a 90% and the next highest team is at 37%.

The NL has much more parity in that sense. Mets are 7th at 57%. Next team is 56% with a few more close behind in the mid-50’s


It was interesting to me that they give the Sox a high probabilty of making the playoffs, but almost no chance of winning the World Series. One of the reason for that must be because the AL has so many strong teams at the top — Yankees, Rays, Twins, Indians, A’s, and even the Astros — that it’s a difficult path to get through that muderers row to even make it to the WS.

In the NL, on the other hand, the Dodgers are the only super strong team, so all of the other teams that make the playoffs have more of a chance to get to the WS, which is reflected in the higher WS winning percentages 538 assigns to the various NL teams that are less likely to make the playoffs than the White Sox.


Dane Dunning reminds me of Danny Graves. Their appearance, not their pitching.


I think Dunning was sent back out there in the fifth to see how he would respond after a somewhat-shaky fourth. Is he the type who can pull himself together after appearing to lose his command? Or is he the typical young pitcher who, when he’s lost it, he’s lost it? For now, at least, Dunning showed that he is the typical young pitcher. But at least he might be able to learn from the experience he went through in the fourth and fifth innings last night. Perhaps next time he will have a better idea of how to get back on track.

Obviously, if this had been a playoff game, or even a regular-season game against a better opponent, a much-quicker hook would have been used.

Overall, Dunning did fairly well, but we have to remember that he gave up three runs and couldn’t get out of the fifth against what might be the worst team in MLB. He still could be a very valuable asset to our staff later this season.


I didn’t mind them sending Dunning out for the 5th. His pitch count was still low and they could give him a chance to pick up his first win (stupid 5-inning rule for wins for SP!) — it’s largely a meaningless stat, but a lot of players still care about it. But they definitely should have pulled him after the 4 pitch walk.