PEORIA, Ariz. -- Justin Dunn must have missed the memo. He didn’t pitch like part of an all-Minor League Mariners roster for Thursday’s split-squad 6-3 loss to the Reds in Peoria. The Major League players were on their way back from Japan after completing a sweep of the A’s in the first two games of the season.
Facing a lineup featuring several Reds big league players, Dunn put on a clinic, allowing no hits in the first three of his four innings and only allowing one batter on base in that span -- a walk to the Reds' projected starting left fielder Jess Winker to open the first. Dunn struck out six of the next nine batters, making a case for himself remaining on the Mariners' radar as the regular season picks up.
“That was the best I’ve felt all spring,” Dunn said. “I felt pretty much in control, in control of my body, in control of the tempo of the game, and pretty much had a feel for all four pitches going.”
Center fielder Scott Schebler finally broke through for an extra-base hit to lead off the fourth -- a double off the center-field fence. Schebler advanced to third on a fly to center and scored on a groundout to second. Dunn put runners on second and third after yielding a two-out walk and double to deep left, then retired Curt Casali on a grounder to third to minimize the damage at a lone run on two hits and two walks over four frames, leaving the game with a 3-1 lead.
“I definitely got a little tired at the end,” Dunn said. “Fastball didn’t have the same life. Breaking ball, changeup -- they all kind of got a little loopier. I’d throw a fastball and check the velo -- it would be the same, but it just didn’t come out of my hand the same way. If you lose your stuff a little bit against those kinds of hitters, they make you pay for it.”
Triple-A manager Daren Brown, skippering the split-squad Mariners, was especially happy with Dunn’s first three innings.
“I thought he was really good,” Brown said. “Early in the game, really good stuff, really good fastball. Obviously, the stuff was good. He was around the plate with all his pitches. It was good to see.”
Dunn finished the Cactus season with a 3.75 ERA over five games, allowing five runs on 10 hits and five walks over 12 innings while striking out 15. In his first spring with the Mariners since coming over in the Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz trade, Dunn cemented his status as the Mariners' No. 3 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
“It seemed like each outing was getting a little easier, getting used to being in camp and being around some of the big leaguers,” Dunn said. “But when the big guys left for Japan, coming over here, that was a little different. Pitching in the backfield games without the fans, without pitching against big leaguers, it’s a little hard to get the adrenaline going. To go back out for this one, it felt like the first one all over again. Definitely a confidence booster, but there’s things to improve on.”
Dunn doesn’t know where he’ll start the season, but having spent the second half of 2018 with the Mets’ Double-A affiliate, he’s a likely candidate for Double-A Arkansas. He’s focused on improving his command, tightening up his changeup and enhancing the feel for all his pitches.
“Wherever I go, I’m ready to go pitch and hopefully end up in Seattle pretty quick,” Dunn said.
No. 1s in the lineup
The Mariners boasted a lineup with a pair of No. 1 Draft picks hitting back to back in the three-hole and cleanup spot, as Evan White and Kyle Lewis each went 1-for-3 with a single. White knocked in a run with a fifth-inning single after missing a day due to illness, and Lewis continued his spring tear through the Cactus League, bringing his average to .417 (10-for-24) with three homers and five RBIs in 11 games.
“Both those guys -- [White has] dealt with some injuries and Lewis, obviously, has dealt with some,” Brown said. “It’s good to see both of them in games, healthy. Just a matter of getting them out here and playing games and they’ll be fine.”
The Mariners close out the Cactus League season with a Friday finale against the split-squad Angels. Tyler Danish will toe the mound for the 6:40 p.m. PT tilt, and the Angels will send Dillon Peters to the hill.