Team-first Dunn enjoys place in talented 'pen

While hoping to close, veteran lefty more concerned with getting to World Series

January 14th, 2018

GREELEY, Colo. -- When Mike Dunn signed a three-year contract with the Rockies last offseason, he wanted to be the closer. That goal remains the left-hander's long-term aspiration, but he's lent himself to the notion of being a focal figure in part of something more congruent.

"Over the term of your career, you want to become whatever you can. For me, in my situation, at some point I want to close," Dunn said. "But it's ultimately winning baseball games, and as a team, doing well and getting as far as we can -- ultimately, the World Series."

Dunn never quite regained the promising, elite form he showed when he began 2017 with nine straight scoreless outings. Back spasms flared during a bullpen session in late April that eventually sent him to the 10-day disabled list, and over his 58 outings after the DL, Dunn struggled through a 5.06 ERA. In those 42 2/3 innings, Dunn walked an average of 5.8 batters per nine innings and slowly lost his grip on pitching in high-leverage situations. By mid-August, the lefty mostly emerged from the bullpen when the game was already decided.

Toward the end of the season, he worked his way back into more high-leverage situations, though he was not among the eight Rockies pitchers used in the National League Wild Card Game.

"I think it was just more so going out and performing," Dunn said. "I had the injury, and then when I came back, I struggled. You can only be put in that situation so many times and not get the job done. I had to earn the trust of my teammates. I had to earn the trust of the coaching staff again, and I think I did that towards the end of the year."

Dunn said his inflated walk rate was the most alarming woe from '17 that he plans to address in Spring Training. His slider, which evoked the most pain relating to his back injury, showed promise over the final month of the season, with a 22.2 percent whiff rate, per Statcast™.

Heading into '18, Dunn is part of a crowded and balanced throng of talented relievers, a group he believes has the potential to be among the Majors' best bullpens. After improving from an MLB-worst 5.13 bullpen ERA in '16, the Rockies' relief corps was a significant catalyst in their first postseason run since 2009, aided by blossoming left-hander Chris Rusin and closer Greg Holland, who led the NL with 41 saves and is now a free agent.

This offseason, Dunn believes the Rockies have bolstered an already strong unit -- and they've backed that bunch financially, with $106 million in commitments this winter alone to free agents (three years, $52 million), who closed for the Cubs in 2017; (three years, $27 million), who pitched in prominent roles with the Indians since 2013; and Jake McGee (three years, $27 million), who last year with the Rockies rebounded to go scoreless in 49 of his 62 outings.

They are also complemented by the versatile Rusin, who posted a career-best 2.65 ERA as arguably the most consistent Colorado reliever; righty , who regressed in '17 after a registering a club-record run of 37 scoreless appearances; righty , who the club is very high on; and right-handed flamethrower , who offers closer potential with triple-digit velocity.

"Look at the guys that there are," Dunn said. "Every guy, right-handed or left-handed, we talked about it last year in a sense, but probably a little bit more this year. ... I think this bullpen has a chance to be one of the best in the league."