Alexander: The Return Of Dodgers’ Dustin May Is A Qualified Success


LOS ANGELES — Remember what Dustin May looked like early in the 2021 season, before his elbow betrayed him?

Remember how he had such command, the pitches were moving as if he controlled them with a joystick? And remember the joy and the passion with which he pursued his craft, the big kid with the curly mop of red hair bouncing all over the place?

He’s back.

Better than ever? It’s awfully early to make that declaration, but consider: May got into, and through, the seventh inning for the first time in his major league career Friday night against Arizona – the first time, in fact, since a Double-A appearance for Tulsa in June of 2019, just six weeks before he was called up to the Dodgers – and he made it almost look easy.

He was sprinting to the mound to start innings and actually skipped off the mound after ending an inning with a strikeout. And while the first start of the season is obviously a small sample size, it suggests that one of the many uncertainties with the 2023 Dodgers might be a little less uncertain today.

May threw 84 pitches against the Diamondbacks, 56 for strikes, hitting 100 mph with two first-inning pitches and later settling into a 96-98 mph groove with his four-seamer. But only one of those fastballs accounted for a swing and miss; he had eight for the game, half of them finishing off his four strikeouts, and three came on sinkers, two on curveballs and two on cutters, according to Baseball Savant.

But he was efficient, getting nine outs on the ground and two popups and only a handful of hard-hit balls, and walking just one.

This is what the Dodgers, and their fan base, have been waiting for, dating to the night of his debut against the Padres in 2019, when the idea was that they were unleashing their latest pitching phenom.

(For what it’s worth, they didn’t win that night against San Diego, a 5-2 loss in which he gave up four runs, three earned, in 5-2/3 innings. And they didn’t win Friday night, either, because Kyle Lewis took a hanging slider from reliever Alex Vesia in the eighth and turned a 1-0 Dodger lead into what turned out to be a 2-1 Arizona victory.)

It has been a circuitous route for May to this point, one that was derailed on that Saturday in Milwaukee two years ago when he winced after throwing a pitch, called for the trainer and walked off the mound with uncertainty, headed for Tommy John surgery.

The suggestion that maybe it’s too soon to say he’s better than ever? Manager Dave Roberts doesn’t quite agree.

“I’ll tell you, I think he’s better than he was before,” Roberts said. “And I say that because, you know, going through that rehab process, there’s a maturity that has to happen. And I think that that’s one component. The delivery is as consistent as I’ve ever seen it. And so for me, I think the net he’s a better major league pitcher than he was, you know, call it 18, 19 months ago.”

The passion is still there, and May said it had never left. There was that skip off the mound after he fanned Geraldo Perdomo in the fifth – the first time he’s done that, May said.

“It was kind of unintentional, but I had already bounced back up and I had already spun, so I just kept going,” he said.

We’ve all seen the K Strut

Dustin May is introducing us to the K Jog

— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) April 1, 2023

And there are the times he verbally (and occasionally profanely) self-corrects, loudly enough to be heard throughout a spring training ballpark, but not so evident amid a big crowd in a big league stadium.

“I’ve always been, wear my heart on my (sleeve) when I’m on the mound,” he said.

Said Roberts before Friday’s game: “I don’t want to take the emotions away from him, because he’s an emotional guy and that’s what makes him tick, and he feeds off that. But I do think there’s been a concerted effort in trying to manage it a little bit better.”

May said he was ready to make his case to return to the mound for the seventh, but Roberts didn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t continue, because of the low pitch count.

“He was very efficient,” Roberts said. “I think that he got pushed to where he wanted to go. But Dustin is a guy that floods the strike zone, puts the ball in play. And I just didn’t think these guys were getting good swings off him for the most part. And so I just thought versus right, versus left, it just didn’t make any sense to go to anybody (else) at that point in time.”

Said May: “If he had come over I’d have tried to bargain with him to go back out. But he didn’t, he let me go back out, so that was a good confidence boost for me. … I was super excited that he trusted me to go back out and get three more outs.”

It was, he said, very encouraging, and something to build on. And when asked how close he is to his pre-surgery self, he answered:

“I feel pretty close. I mean, I don’t know what the difference would be between before and right now. Everything’s been feeling pretty in line, so I’ve just got to keep going.”

It is a very positive sign for the top of the Dodgers’ rotation if May, slotted between Julio Urías and Clayton Kershaw, can be not only as good as his old self but better.

And maybe it’s part of what might be a more interesting season than all of those 100-win campaigns. This is a team with questions, and we obviously won’t get all or even most of the answers right away.

The exploration process will be sometimes nerve-racking and occasionally agonizing at the end of the night, like Friday, but it will seldom be dull.

Ufficio Stampa

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