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Notes: Dunning excited to pitch; Keuchel's role

@scottmerkin
February 20, 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dane Dunning will throw his first live batting practice session next Friday at Camelback Ranch, and the right-hander can’t wait to face hitters on his road back from Tommy John surgery undergone last March. “I haven’t faced hitters in a year, a year and a half. I’m

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dane Dunning will throw his first live batting practice session next Friday at Camelback Ranch, and the right-hander can’t wait to face hitters on his road back from Tommy John surgery undergone last March.

“I haven’t faced hitters in a year, a year and a half. I’m a little nervous, but it will be fun,” Dunning said. “It’s just being able to get back on the mound. It’s not really nervous, but it’s more I guess you could say excited. It’s just wanting to get back into it.”

Dunning, the No. 5 White Sox prospect per MLB Pipeline in 2019, last pitched in a game on June 23, 2018, at Montgomery, when he departed from a start with Double-A Birmingham after 3 2/3 innings. General manager Rick Hahn previously has stated Dunning would have been in consideration for the fifth starter’s spot last Spring Training, but that opportunity was halted by his injury.

So far, all of Dunning’s bullpen sessions have gone off without a hitch, and he hopes to maybe even get into game action by the end of Spring Training -- but he understands he has to take it one day at a time.

“I’m probably going to be limited in innings this year, but honestly, I’m just trying to get back and get back to actually in a game. That’s my biggest goal, get back to playing in games first,” Dunning said. “Everything has been feeling good.

“Once I get off the mound, I feel like it’s adrenaline kicking in and then my old self. I’ve done it for so many years. I’ll be able to hop right back into it, just like riding a bike.”

Cishek works with specific focus
Reliever Steve Cishek, in his 11th big league season, is working with a specific purpose during his first with the White Sox.

“Just mainly I’m trying to work on commanding my glove-side fastball a lot better,” Cishek said. “Last year, especially as the year went on, I started losing a little bit of a feel for it.

“Balls kept leaking back a little. In my bullpen sessions especially, I’ve been mostly staying on the glove side part of the plate with my fastball just to reinforce getting that feel out, that extension out there.”

Cishek also pointed to focus paid to his slider, a pitch he didn’t have a feel for over half the season in 2019 with the Cubs.

“If you watch, I threw a lot of two-seamers in on guys, because that’s what I had to work with,” Cishek said. “I’m just really trying to get a consistent feel for it. Shortening up my arm path, my delivery a touch. And also staying back a lot more this year.”

Keuchel, the tone-setter
Lefty Dallas Keuchel doesn’t solely have to be a top-of-the-rotation hurler for the White Sox to have a significant impact, as Hahn explained.

“Look, there’s different ways to sort of set the tone,” Hahn said. “There’s the ability to eat up innings, there’s the ability to come up with a big start when the bullpen needs relief and perhaps we had a couple of short outings form other guys. And there’s a way of setting the tone simply by how he goes about his business on a daily basis and showing guys how to be a professional and showing guys how to deal with hopefully the stress and expectations of a pennant race.”

From a strictly performance standpoint, Hahn expects Keuchel to be a “pretty good pitcher and contribute” for the length of his three-year, $55.5 million deal.

“My only point was he wasn’t brought in solely to be a savior,” Hahn said. “We are not looking to him to pitch like No. 1.

“If he does, which he’s capable of doing, fantastic. But we have other guys in this rotation and other guys coming that we think have the ability to pitch as No. 1 to No. 2 and Dallas is just another part of that rotation.”

They said it
Cishek, on the White Sox live arms: “I think I brought down the average velocity by like 10 mph in our live batting practice sessions, and I thought I was feeling good. That was a little humbling. But it’s been a lot of fun to watch.”

Manager Rick Renteria on the personal satisfaction felt in getting through the rebuild: "I’m very happy right now. The task is not complete, but there is a satisfaction. It’s like seeing your kids grow up. There are a lot of ups and downs that go along with it, some tears and some great laughter and some great harmony and joy. But all in all, everybody should be happy with the direction that the organization has gone since the inception of the changeover.”

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.