So when they were traded together to the White Sox for outfielder Adam Eaton on Dec. 7, 2016, Dunning looked up his counterparts on YouTube and watched them pitch.
“I was shocked to see the talent they have,” said Dunning during a recent conversation with MLB.com. “They are both really talented pitchers, and you could see what Gio and Lopey are doing now.
“Gio’s killing it, and Lopey’s stuff is really good. I was really happy to be a part of it. If they put me in the trade with them, they see a potential in me. It gives met that motivation of ‘OK, they like me, they want me.’ So it has definitely helped.”
Dunning, 24, will have to wait a little longer to join Giolito and Lopez as he recovers from Tommy John surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews on March 18, 2019. The right-hander started throwing a few weeks ago but described it as light throwing with putting an arc on the ball from 30 and 45 feet, respectively.
That light throwing is scheduled to run for two months. But by the time Spring Training arrives, Dunning hopes to be throwing bullpen sessions.
“Just starting up that, or if anything, already be into bullpens,” Dunning said. “From there, hopefully be able to go into the extended season and throw in my games and make my way back early June-ish.”
Stationed in Arizona during his rehab work, Dunning is not going through this process alone. Michael Kopech, who will be a vital part of the White Sox rotation in 2020, also is there after Tommy John, along with fellow pitchers A.J. Puckett, Andre Davis, Jimmy Lambert and Ryan Burr, as well as infielder Jake Burger, the White Sox top pick in the 2017 Draft who is working his way back from a pair of left Achilles tears.
None of these players certainly wanted to get hurt and miss valuable development time. But they are able to bounce ideas and feelings off each other, especially when it comes to Tommy John surgery.
“You get so many feelings through the elbow, and we are able to talk to one another,” Dunning said. “It’s very unfortunate we are all in this situation. But hopefully in the long run, it will be beneficial.”
And here lies the interesting turn of the injury for Dunning. When he left a start with Double-A Birmingham on June 23, 2018, with an elbow sprain, Dunning was pushing his way toward a chance to break camp in ’19 as part of the White Sox rotation. General manager Rick Hahn has mentioned that possibility a few times.
Having Tommy John surgery temporarily derailed Dunning’s big league goal but hearing Hahn’s words of praise becomes an extra push for Dunning. And when he does team with Giolito and Lopez in the same rotation to complete the trade trifecta, the No. 5 White Sox prospect per MLB Pipeline will be better prepared because of the injury.
“Ultimately this is helping me in the long run, because it’s giving me an advantage to look at how I took care of my body back then vs. now,” Dunning said. “It’s just like certain arm care programs I’m doing, built for my rehab, but I know I’ll be able to use during the season. I can incorporate that into my routine.
“It will give me a stronger foundation for my shoulder throughout my arm. My core and stuff like that, where I’ll be able to maintain a healthier balance throughout the season, instead of at the end of year [when] everybody gets a little tired and exhausted. Obviously when I got hurt halfway through the season last year, that’s just my body telling me it was getting tired. I wasn’t prepared for it.”