TORONTO -- The margin for error against a team like the Blue Jays is minuscule. Manager Chris Woodward cites Toronto's emotion and youth as the reasons for their ability to thrive in any situation.
So while Rangers starter Dane Dunning could have, and maybe should have, had a clean first inning against the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre, two defensive miscues from third baseman Andy Ibáñez allowed Toronto to jump to a 2-0 lead early.
While neither of the defensive mishaps -- a misplayed grounder that allowed George Springer to reach on an infield single and a bobble on a short hop that only allowed Texas to record one out on a would-be double play -- were officially ruled as errors, both led directly to runs for Toronto in the first inning.
Dunning, to his credit, grinded through the first inning by only allowing the two runs on two hits. As a ground-ball pitcher, Dunning relies on the defense behind him more often than not. It paid off for most of his outing, as the right-hander allowed just three runs in the Rangers' 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays.
It was an encouraging first outing for the right-hander who had an up-and-down rookie season, posting a 4.51 ERA over 117 2/3 innings (27 games, 25 starts) in 2021.
“I thought Dane did a heck of a job,” Woodward said. “He gave up only one, really because in the first inning we made a couple of mistakes behind him. I thought he was really effective today. He used the changeup well against them and, obviously, played off the sinker and slider. … I thought Dane pitched his butt off today.”
Dunning’s only real misfire was a changeup down the middle to Bo Bichette that Bichette drove 425 feet into the left-center-field stands. Woodward called it a well-placed pitch by Dunning, but a “good piece of hitting” by Bichette in the right situation.
Woodward said that after the first inning, Dunning began using more changeups to get the Blue Jays off his sinker and slider.
In 2021, Dunning used the changeup just 13 percent of the time, per Statcast. It was his third-most-used pitch, but he still utilized far less than both his sinker and slider. Against the Blue Jays, he threw 16 changeups, making up 22% of his total pitches.
“It’s been something that I’ve needed to do,” Dunning said. “It's been kind of the plan going in this season to utilize the change more, just get people off the sinker-slider combo. The changeup plays great, so, hopefully, I’ll be able to incorporate it a lot more throughout the season.”
Dunning’s night ended at just 74 pitches (47 strikes) as pitchers continue to build up after the shortened Spring Training, but he made solid work in his first outing of the season against a powerful Blue Jays lineup.
The 27-year-old was mostly just happy to have the limitations from last season off, as he was limited coming off Tommy John surgery in 2019 and the pandemic-shortened season in ‘20.
“I was definitely begging him to let me go out for the sixth,” Dunning explained. “Especially just with the bottom half of the order going through there, I still felt really good. But it's a marathon, not a sprint, so they had to cut me off. But, I was begging for it.”
Dunning’s outing was overshadowed by the issues that the Rangers showcased on Opening Day -- a shaky bullpen and a defense that needs improvement. And while the Texas 'pen was much better today, allowing just one run over the final four innings, Toronto’s was even better.
The Rangers' new and improved offense totaled nine hits against the Blue Jays, but scored just three runs. Texas went 3-for-8 with runners in scoring position, leaving six runners stranded on base.
“A few mistakes cost us,” Woodward said. “We knew that was going to be a well-pitched game, especially with [Blue Jays starter Kevin Gausman] on the other side. Overall, we just didn't do enough to win the game when it came down to it.”