Dunning hangs tough for Rangers after sloppy 4th frame

Right-hander strikes out season-high 8 batters in 6 1/3 innings

May 25th, 2022

Some nights, a team runs into a buzzsaw that is an opposing starting pitcher, as the Rangers did with Noah Syndergaard on Tuesday at Angel Stadium. And on such nights, a bit of length from one’s own starter can be a necessary difference-maker.

With Texas embarking on a stretch of 16 straight games without an off-day, Dane Dunning got the ball for the opener of a two-game set in Anaheim. And while an ugly fourth inning made it a night to forget, overall, the right-hander showed some moxie by working into the seventh inning, setting a season high for himself with eight strikeouts, even as he was tagged for five earned runs in the Rangers’ 5-3 loss to the Angels.

“Honestly, I was pretty happy with myself just going out, being able to get into that seventh inning after giving up four runs in the fourth and then giving up a home run in the fifth,” said Dunning. “Just being able to take that game longer than that game and not kind of folding early on, it was definitely just a learning experience.”

Dunning started off nearly matching Syndergaard step for step, putting up zeros in each of the first three innings. But he ran into trouble to open the fourth by surrendering a leadoff ground-rule double to Jared Walsh, who then took third on Matt Duffy’s single. Luis Rengifo grounded out to first baseman Nathaniel Lowe, who got the out at first, then barely missed throwing Walsh out at the plate for the game’s first run.

Brandon Marsh was then credited with an infield single on a ground ball to Corey Seager, who made a throwing error to first that allowed Duffy to round third and score. Max Stassi hit a ground-rule double and then Dunning was unable to field a well-placed bunt from Tyler Wade that brought in run No. 3 for the Angels.

“Definitely should’ve been there on that bunt,” said Dunning. “I knew he was going to bunt, and then I kind of hesitated for a second, and it won’t happen again.”

The Angels tacked on their final run of the frame on Andrew Velazquez’s sacrifice fly, while Walsh’s leadoff home run the following inning ended up being the Halos’ final blow of the night. Manager Chris Woodward was quick to point out that Dunning, whose ERA rose to 4.32, unfairly took the brunt of the poor glovework. Indeed, innings like Tuesday’s fourth, where no one seems able to limit the damage, are no small part of why the Rangers sit at 18-23, third in the American League West.

“We just didn’t play good defense tonight,” said Woodward. “We’ve had a few times where that’s happened, where it kind of snowballed on us. You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to make one mistake, but I think as a team, we’ve got to do a better job of limiting it to one, saying, ‘Enough, OK, it’s up to the next guy to kind of pick him up.’”

Still, for the Rangers’ starter, there have been flashes of brilliance in 2022, and there were certainly positives to be taken from this start, as well. For instance, the 27-year-old set season highs for himself with 15 whiffs and a 37 percent called strike + whiff rate, and showed a resiliency that could serve the Rangers well going forward.

“I thought Dane did a really good job,” said Woodward. “That’s the best way I can describe it. He did a really good job of just maintaining composure, continuing to make pitches, didn’t look back. … It’s a tough thing to do as a pitcher, obviously, when there’s a number of plays that could’ve been made, should’ve been made, and those innings happen, and I was just proud of him for continuing to battle through and compete through that inning.”