Dunning debuts new slider in Cactus League start

March 26th, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Dane Dunning said he idolizes Corey Kluber, so it’s no surprise that Dunning wanted to experiment with his own pitch design in Spring Training.

While it’s not exactly a “Kluberball,” the Rangers right-hander is throwing a new slider in camp. Dunning said he started throwing the new slider just messing around, but after discussions with co-pitching coach Brendan Sagara, they decided to keep trying it out. Dunning is the second Rangers pitcher to debut a new slider this spring, following Jon Gray.

“The slider that I normally throw is a bit more vertical,” Dunning explained. “It was about seven inches both horizontal and negative. This new slider I throw is about 20 inches horizontal and probably more like a sideways curveball. …The numbers are actually really good on it, so it's something I wanted to incorporate into my repertoire. It's something different that hitters haven't seen.”

Dunning tossed 2 2/3 innings in the Rangers' 8-4 win over the Royals at Surprise Stadium on Friday, allowing just one run on four hits with two strikeouts. He said he threw his new slider twice in the start, but they were both “horrible.”

“So bad that it wasn’t even near the strike zone,” Dunning said. “Yeah, so something to work on still. I just needed to rip it a little bit more and just kind of left it a little bit arm side. That's just going to be an adjustment, and I just needed that repetition on it, that's all.”

Dunning’s old traditional slider was his second most used pitch in 2021, as he relies mainly on his sinker (52.2%) without a traditional fastball. He threw the slider 21.5% of the time in '21, and it had an opponent batting average of .240.

Dunning said he plans to continue throwing both sliders, along with his sinker, curveball, changeup and cutter for a full six-pitch arsenal. He jokes that he’s not sure what he wants to call the new one, but might leave that decision up to Sagara.

The 27-year-old was one of two prospects the Rangers received in the Lance Lynn trade with the White Sox following the 2020 season. In his first full big league season, he posted a 4.51 ERA over 117 2/3 innings.

While he was a bit overzealous in his first spring outing, he fared much better in his second start.

“It’s just being a lot more consistent in the strike zone,” Dunning said. “In that first outing, I was definitely very amped up. Just going out there and being able to come out this time -- where it just feels like I belong there again -- everything felt like it was really good. I was able to be more consistent on the plate and pound the strike zone.”

Duran, Miller, White homer
After home runs from Ezequiel Duran, Brad Miller and Eli White on Friday, the club leads the Cactus League with 17 homers, two ahead of the Dodgers and Giants at the conclusion of Texas' game. As a team, Texas is slashing .311/.383/.594 with a .977 OPS through seven Spring Training games.

It’s an early indication that things are going right for the Rangers on the offensive side with new hitting coaches Donnie Ecker and Tim Hyers.

“It’s good to see the buy-in,” manager Chris Woodward said. “The players have been really open to the game planning and the training that we do in the cage and [in] BP. Our mindset and mentality in the batter's box has been fun to watch. Now, obviously, the biggest key to all of this is to continue that. We can be one of the best offensive teams in baseball if we continue to do these things.”

Quick hits
• Lefty Martín Pérez started for Triple-A Round Rock on the backfields against Kansas City on Friday afternoon. He tossed 2 1/3 innings, allowing one hit and no runs. He struck out three batters and 21 of his 28 pitches were for strikes.

• Big leaguers Willie Calhoun, Leody Taveras, Matt Carpenter and Yohel Pozo also took extra at-bats on the backfields Friday, bouncing between the Triple-A and Double-A games. Calhoun and Taveras both hit home runs.