May backs up ambitions with dazzling debut

April 6th, 2021

entered Spring Training trying to prove that he belongs on the Dodgers’ talented starting rotation. He accomplished that goal, edging out David Price and Tony Gonsolin to become the team’s No. 5 starter. Hours after getting the nod in the rotation, May said his focus quickly turned to establishing himself as a bona fide Major League starter.

May sure made his case in his first start of the season, striking out eight and tossing six scoreless innings in the Dodgers’ 10-3 win over the A’s on Monday. The six innings tied a career-high for the right-hander.

“It was fun to watch. It really was,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “I think Dustin, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit and a lot of opportunity for him to get even better. … To see him get through six innings was really good to see.”

May’s outing began with Mark Canha fighting off a 1-2 sinker and shooting it into right field for a leadoff single. That was the first and last hit May allowed until the sixth inning, when designated hitter Mitch Moreland lined a hard-hit single to right-center.

The A’s recorded two hits and drew two walks against the right-hander. Other than that, the night consisted of May being as dominant as he’s ever been during his young big league career.

May’s velocity on the four-seamer and sinker picked up right where it left off in 2020. The 23-year-old threw nine pitches at 99 mph or higher. He averaged 97.7 mph on the sinker and 98.4 on the four-seamer. He didn’t utilize his curveball as much as he did during the spring, throwing the pitch just nine times. Instead, May relied heavily on his cutter, throwing it 18 times. The A’s had no answer for the pitch.

“It was a little iffy in the bullpen,” May said of the cutter. “But it definitely felt better during the game.”

Of the 18 cutters May threw, the A’s took 12 swings. Nine of them resulted in swings-and-misses, a career-high on the pitch for May. He also saved his best for last, striking out Matt Olson on a 95.2 mph cutter in the sixth inning to record his eighth punchout.

“Cutter-wise, it was probably the best that it felt from the start of spring to now,” May said. “It’s probably the best that I thought it was. Command, the way it was spinning, the way that it was moving. All-around I thought it was a good pitch tonight.”

Overall, he recorded 16 swings-and-misses on the night, the most in any game of his career. That’s particularly encouraging for May, who finished in the seventh percentile in whiff % last season. Trying to get more whiffs was a priority for May this spring. So far, so good.

“It’s progress and I think he’s really starting to understand what his potential could be and to get Major League hitters out and to get those swings and misses,” Roberts said. “He’s a guy that pitches at the bottom of the zone, but for him to have the ability to pitch at the top if needs to, is really important.”

As he sat at just 85 pitches through six innings, May was lobbying Roberts to let him go back out for the seventh inning. But Roberts and the Dodgers had seen enough. Their priority is to have May healthy throughout the season so he’s able to tap into the potential that made him a top prospect as he came up through the Dodgers’ system.

With Julio Urías tossing seven-plus stellar innings on Sunday and May delivering, arguably, the best start of his career on Monday, the Dodgers are making an early case that their rotation might be even better in 2021, with the young pitchers contributing to a staff that already features Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer and Walker Buehler. That’s bad news for the rest of the league.

“I’m very proud of those guys,” Roberts said. “It just speaks to how good we are as a ballclub.”