Dunn dodges soreness, but still trying to trim walks

September 7th, 2022

CHICAGO -- As starting pitcher Justin Dunn seeks to be part of the 2023 Reds rotation stable of young arms, he’ll have to demonstrate that his right shoulder is sound and that he can cut down on walks.

Following his last start, when he was pulled with shoulder tightness, Dunn returned with no ill-effects against the Cubs on Tuesday. But the walks proved problematic during the Reds’ 9-3 loss to Chicago at Wrigley Field. Dunn walked four batters and surrendered two home runs in 4 2/3 innings.

“Thank God, man, the shoulder held up pretty well today. I feel good right now,” Dunn said. “Not crazy sore. I wish the outcome would’ve been a little different, but all in all, the shoulder feels better. That was the big concern going into this one for me and I’m happy with it.”

Overall, Reds pitchers allowed a season-high 11 walks and hit one batter. That’s rarely a good omen for a winning outcome.

“Justin did a nice job getting outs, but when you walk that many guys, throw that many pitches, it’s going to catch up to you. That’s what happened tonight,” Reds manager David Bell said.

Dunn gave up three earned runs and four hits with one strikeout, but threw 81 pitches.

“I actually felt like I commanded the heater pretty well early in the game. I was in good counts. I just didn’t really put guys away,” Dunn said. “It was just a couple of pitches I didn’t get to where I wanted to get them to. That’s the biggest thing for me.”

Kyle Farmer single-handedly gave the Reds a 3-1 lead through three innings. In the top of the first inning against Wade Miley, Farmer blooped a two-run triple that took a hop past right fielder Seiya Suzuki. In the third inning, Farmer drove a Miley first pitch to left-center field for a solo homer.

Dunn couldn’t keep the lead. In the bottom of the first inning, Ian Happ hit a 1-0 curveball over the middle of the plate for a two-out solo homer to left-center field. In the fourth inning, the right-hander survived giving up back-to-back walks with one out by getting Yan Gomes to ground into a double play.

After Alfonso Rivas walked to open the bottom of the fifth inning, Suzuki delivered a two-out, two-run homer to left-center field to make it a 3-3 game.

“The competitor in me, when they give me a lead, I don’t want to give it up,” Dunn said. “I don’t care if it’s one, two, three, four, I don’t want to give the lead up at all. To come out and be one pitch away from getting out of another inning, keeping it a 3-1 ballgame, getting through another inning for the bullpen, and really doing my job. It really sucked. I was pretty upset. We’ll be better from it and keep going.”

That was Dunn’s final batter as Bell went to his bullpen.

“He was able to pitch around and get out of a couple of situations,” Bell said. “Really, it’s one pitch right there, the home run to Suzuki. If that goes different, he’s able to finish that inning potentially and it’s a totally different game.”

Miley and rookie Hayden Wesneski -- in his debut -- otherwise shut down the Reds, who were limited to four hits. Wesneski worked five scoreless innings and struck out eight.

The go-ahead runs crossed in the sixth on Nick Madrigal’s two-run single against Reds reliever Fernando Cruz. The bullpen gave up six earned runs and seven walks in a rough evening. The 11 walks overall were the most for the club since Aug. 8, 2018.

Dunn, who did not walk a batter one week ago against the Cardinals before he was taken out early, has endured high walk rates during his brief career. It was 12.2 walks per-nine innings as a rookie in 2019 and has trended downward since, to 6.1 in ‘20 and 5.2 in ‘21. This season, his walk rate is 4.50 per nine innings. He has walked four or more batters in 10 of his 31 career starts.

How does Dunn keep getting his walk rate lower?

“Just not being scared,” he said. “Challenge the zone and attack with my stuff, get on the plate early and try to get guys to put balls on contact.”