Justin Dunn is hoping to become another formidable MLBbro on the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff. The 27-year-old melanated mound marauder has been on the verge of a breakout season since entering the league with a live arm and high expectations back in 2019. Fast forward to 2023 and Dunn’s ascension has been slowed by the injury bug. The former Seattle Mariners star prospect hasn’t pitched more than 50.1 innings in a season.
When the Cincinnati Reds acquired Dunn in the Eugenio Suárez trade with the Seattle Mariners last year, general manager Nick Krall knew that Dunn was battling a major shoulder injury, but Reds’ brass was being optimistic and taking a chance on a pitcher who hasn’t logged many innings in his career. They projected the Freeport, NY native as a solid rotation piece as the Reds try to rebuild into a contending squad.
It’s not like Dunn hasn’t had prolonged stretches where he’s proven that he can be a top starter.
Dunn Has Shown Stretches Of Brilliance
From August 23, 2020, through May of the 2021 season, Dunn allowed three or fewer runs over 15 starts to lead the American League.
Dunn’s streak was also the fourth-longest such streak in Mariners’ history trailing Seattle legend Felix Hernandez, Roenis Elías and Erik Bedard. It appeared as if Dunn had found his next level, along with his budding Mariners squad. In 2021, Dunn and his former Seattle teammate MLBbro Justus Sheffield were part of only two rotations in baseball to feature multiple Black starters. The Mets featured the charismatic technician Marcus Stroman and heat-toting Taijuan Walker.
Then came the shoulder injury, which derailed his ascension and now, a year after the Reds took a shot on him, Dunn is dealing with the same issue in his right shoulder, a combination of inflammation and subscapularis.
The team expects him to be out for a few months rehabbing. Dunn has never been the most intimidating pitcher, so he’s used to people doubting him and knocking him for not measuring up to the metrics. Those funny numbers that overlook winning attributes such as natural talent and heart.
Reds Doctors Won’t Rush Dunn Back To The Mound
According to spring training reports, Dunn is positive about a quick recovery, but doctors are guarding against a premature return.
“(The specialist) was making it seem that the inflammation wasn’t as bad but I believe there might be an actual tear in there, which is why it’s taking so long,” Dunn told reporters. “He said my shoulder actually felt pretty good. It was just a couple of tests that he did that I didn’t pass. He was like, we’ve got to let it heal before we can let you pick up a ball.”
The Reds could certainly use Dunn sooner rather than later. He’s only pitched in seven games since the middle of the 2021 season.
“I just have to get with the team and get a plan of action for what we’re going to do,” Dunn said. “Give it the right amount of time for it to heal and if I rush this, it’s not going to be a good situation. Unfortunately, it’s just the situation we’re in. One day at a time.”
Ironically, Dunn’s specialist told him that he has only seen one other pitcher with a similar injury and that was NY Mets Black Ace Dwight Gooden, who had a brilliant 16-year MLB career.
“(The specialist) explained the surgery and it scared the (heck) out of me frankly,” Dunn said. “He said, ‘I don’t want to do this. I don’t think you need it. You’re too young. You have a lot of baseball ahead of you.’ That’s for when your back is against the wall, and you’re fighting for a couple of more years. I was very thankful to hear that.”
This is a rough luck situation for Dunn who basically had an open lane to a starting position in the Reds’ rotation. In his last real action, the former Top 100 prospect had a 3.75 ERA.
Let’s hope this talented pitcher can get healthy and put together a full season on the mound. If he ever does, he’s sure to finally get his due.