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Is this rookie the next big star in LA?

@_dadler
July 28, 2020

You weren't ready for the thunder Dustin May brought on Opening Night at Chavez Ravine. This kid was absolutely nasty. This is the embarrassment of riches the Dodgers have. Clayton Kershaw goes down at the 11th hour, they call up the 22-year-old May as their first rookie Opening Day starter

You weren't ready for the thunder Dustin May brought on Opening Night at Chavez Ravine. This kid was absolutely nasty.

This is the embarrassment of riches the Dodgers have. Clayton Kershaw goes down at the 11th hour, they call up the 22-year-old May as their first rookie Opening Day starter since Fernando Valenzuela, and May comes out firing some of the filthiest stuff in the Majors.

That could be huge for the Dodgers, a World Series favorite with a loaded roster that could be baseball's best team in 2020 ... but suddenly has some starting-pitching questions. Kershaw and Alex Wood are hurt. Hyun Jin Ryu departed to lead the Blue Jays' staff. Kenta Maeda was traded to the Twins, and Rich Hill signed there as a free agent. Walker Buehler is a star, but he might not be fully built up yet, and behind him, Ross Stripling and Julio Urías have had ups and downs, as has Wood when healthy.

Then you have May, who flashed enough talent after his callup down the stretch last season to make the Dodgers' playoff roster. May is the Dodgers' No. 2 prospect and the No. 23 prospect in baseball. On the Opening Day stage, he showed why. May struck out four in his 4 1/3 innings of one-run ball against the Giants in Los Angeles' 8-1 win, and he looked good doing it.

Now he gets the Astros, in a rematch of a 2017 World Series that happened before May made his Major League debut. So what nastiness should fans expect to see when May takes the mound for the first time against the reigning American League champions?

Let's break down May's awesome arsenal.

He throws a 100 mph sinker with crazy movement

This was the pitch that immediately went viral. In the first inning, on his first pitch to Pablo Sandoval, May unleashed a 99.1 mph sinker that broke 18 inches from left to right -- more than the entire width of home plate -- and tailed right over the outside corner for a called strike.

That's right, May threw a pitch 99 mph that also broke a foot and a half. How do you hit that?

If you check out May's Statcast pitch movement numbers from his brief debut stint for the Dodgers last year, you'll see that this wasn't just some freak pitch. His sinker averaged 16.8 inches of horizontal break last season, at a 96 mph velocity.

Only one starting pitcher threw a sinker or two-seamer with that much velocity and that much movement: the Reds' Luis Castillo, who you might recognize as a strikeout artist with one of the best two-seamers in the game.

May spent Opening Night firing in more sinkers like that first one. He maxed out at 100 mph, he got Brandon Crawford to wave fruitlessly at a 99.6 mph sinker that broke 16.8 inches and he blew away Joe McCarthy at 99.7 mph -- faster than any strikeout pitch the Dodgers recorded all of last season. Oh, and that sinker broke 16.8 inches, too.

He has a wipeout 95 mph cutter

May doesn't just have a demon sinker. He has three demon pitches. No. 2 is his cutter.

May dials his cutter up to as much as 95 mph, it sits in the 93 mph range, and when he really breaks one off, it's got slider movement. That's a growing phenomenon in MLB these days -- power pitchers who blur the cutter/slider distinction, with freakish results. (Like Jacob deGrom, who throws 95 mph swing-and-miss sliders like it's nothing.) May falls into that trend.

Against the Giants, May's cutter highlights included multiple called strikes to unsuspecting hitters plus a trio of whiffs, two perfectly placed at 94 mph in on the hands of McCarthy and Alex Dickerson but none better than one he threw to Crawford, which was also 94 mph but somehow fell off the table completely.

May's cutter looks like a great weapon against left-handed hitters, reminiscent of how Max Scherzer developed a hard cutter as a complement to his normal slider for the express purpose of better attacking lefties.

He spins a 3,000 rpm power curve

Last but far from least, pitch No. 3: a power curveball with elite spin and extreme velocity for a curve.

May's curveball averaged close to 87 mph and 3,000 rpm on Opening Night. That's crazy. The league average curveball last season came in at 79 mph and 2,500 rpm.

You could see the elite spin coming if you looked at May's inaugural sample from last season. His curveball spin rate was 3,058 rpm in 2019, seventh-highest in MLB, which is why it gets such sharp movement. May's curveball dropped 4.6 inches more than an average curve in 2019. But now he looks like he might have added velocity -- May averaged "only" 83 mph last year -- which could make an already nasty curve even nastier.

Maybe May took a page out of teammate Joe Kelly's book. Kelly throws maybe the most extreme curveball in the Major Leagues when it comes to velocity and spin. He averaged 87.2 mph and 3,103 rpm last season, and during the playoffs, he was literally throwing 90 mph curves with 3,000-plus rpm spin rates, which is wild.

Whatever the case may be, May's curveball looked great on Opening Night. He didn't throw it a ton, but he deployed it in big moments as a strikeout pitch. Three of his four K's came on curveballs -- one at 86.2 mph and 2,984 rpm to strike out Dickerson in the third inning, one at 86.3 mph and 3,045 rpm to strike out Mauricio Dubon in the fourth, and one at 86.7 mph and 2,991 to strike out Wilmer Flores on his last pitch of the night.

Quite a way to cap off his first career Opening Day start. And don't worry, this is only the beginning of the nastiness you're going to see from May in L.A. As if having Kershaw and Buehler weren't enough, May has the stuff to be a future third ace for the Dodgers.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.