Dunning deals in stellar 7-inning gem in Anaheim

September 28th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- After his last start in Texas, Rangers pitcher joked that his 15 pitches in the postseason barely even counted because it happened in 2020, when he was with the White Sox, and there were no fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite his lack of experience, Dunning looks primed for the postseason. With the Rangers in a tight division race over the final week of the season, Dunning needed to have a big day for Texas to have a chance to maintain its lead atop the AL West.

That’s exactly what he did, tossing seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, carrying the Rangers to a 5-0 win over the Angels at Angel Stadium Wednesday night.

“These are big games, but I mean, it's what all of us here work and try for,” Dunning said. “We just want to be able to go out and get the team a win and that way we can get one step closer to the division title. That's what we all work each and every day for, so it's a good feeling.”

  • Games remaining (4): at SEA (4)
  • Standings update: The Rangers (89-69) lead the AL West by 2 1/2 games over the Astros (87-72) and four games over the Mariners (85-73).
  • Tiebreakers: The Rangers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker vs. the Mariners but not the Astros. For a Wild Card spot, they would win a tiebreaker vs. the Blue Jays.
  • Magic number: 2 to clinch the AL West

Since posting a 2.28 ERA in May and a 3.62 ERA in June, Dunning has had various highs and lows throughout his season. Wednesday was Dunning’s longest and best outing since he twirled seven innings of one-run ball in a loss in San Francisco on Aug. 13.

“Dane was the story of the game,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “What a great job he did. He had all his pitches going, good location, good slider going on tonight. He had a good tempo out there. He just looked so good, so determined.

“I know Dane now after being with him all year and he's got a great way about him. He’s got the calmness and the poise out there.”

Despite starting the season in the bullpen due to the Rangers' signings of a trio of free agent starting pitchers in Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney, Dunning will finish the season with career-high 169 1/3 innings and a career-best 3.72 ERA. 

He’s served admirably in deGrom’s spot in the rotation since the ace went down with UCL surgery in June and been a stabilizing force for a rotation that’s been injury riddled all season long.

“I’ve said this already before, but if you look at the most valuable guy on the staff [it’s Dunning], because of how he was used this year,” Bochy said. “We had him in the ‘pen early, and he did such a great job of giving us quality innings there. He then stepped in a rotation and just had a tremendous year for us there. It's not over yet, but it just says a lot about the man and how he was willing to do anything [for the team].”

For Dunning, who admits that he didn’t even think he would make the big league club out of camp, he said it’s been “really cool” that he’s developed into this kind of pitcher this season. 

“He’s been special,” said catcher Jonah Heim. “It's amazing. I think when deGrom went down, he stepped up in a big way, and has pitched well for this ballclub all year. You can't overlook the impact he's had on the success of this team all year.”

Despite a phenomenal night from Dunning, the right-hander emphasized how fun it is to pitch behind an offense like the Rangers have, that can break through at any point in the game.

provided all the offense for most of the game with an RBI double in the first inning and a solo homer in the third, but Texas broke through with back-to-back homers from and in the top of the eighth to extend the lead to 5-0, which would stand as the final score. 

The Rangers now head to Seattle for four games to close out the regular season, looking to clinch a postseason berth and the AL West for the first time since 2016. 

“I'm super excited,” Dunning said. “This atmosphere is about to be so much fun, and we have three absolute studs coming into these types of games to pitch in Montgomery, Eovaldi and Jon Gray. It gonna be a lot of fun.”