In the midst of Tuesday night’s blowout, Robin Ventura only needed to look Adam Dunn’s way and nod, knowing the slugger would understand his long-awaited chance to pitch was around the corner.
When the moment arrived, Dunn looked and acted the part, even snapping his glove after his second pitch, believing plate umpire Chris Conroy had squeezed him.
Though he expected to be nervous, Dunn said he wasn’t when he made his pro pitching debut for the final inning of a 16-0 loss to the Texas Rangers.
Dunn had few regrets after he allowed a run on two hits and said he avoided throwing harder on purpose. His repertoire of pitches sat between 78-83 mph throughout his 22-pitch stanza, though Dunn said he could have thrown much harder.
“I never looked at the radar gun,” Dunn said. “If that’s 83, I got 10 more in there.
“The slower the better. If I go out there and throw 88 miles an hour, 90 miles an hour — a lot of people do that. And not a lot of people are humming it up near 80.”
Dunn, whose 457 home runs are the most in major league history by a pitcher making his debut — one more than Jimmie Foxx had when he made his on Aug. 6, 1939 — has long begged Ventura for a chance to pitch.
He was one of several players who offered to throw when Leury Garcia took the mound on April 16 against the Boston Red Sox. Even so, Ventura thought the “eye contact in about the sixth or seventh” to inform Dunn he would pitch caught the slugger by surprise.
“I think he was a little shocked when I walked up to him and said, ‘Tonight’s your night,’” Ventura said. “He was probably a little shocked. He went inside. He was working on it inside. I don’t know if anybody’s gone from being on deck to pitching as a first time.”
Dunn threw in the batting cage in between innings to prepare. Once on the mound, Dunn only needed six warm-up tosses before he was ready to go. But backup catcher Adrian Nieto said Dunn gave him explicit instructions for Conroy.
“He told me to tell the umpire ‘To open it up a little bit,’” Nieto said. “And ‘Stick everything for me.’”
“You try to keep it professional because it’s still a game. But I think everybody had a good kick out of it, especially the way the game unfolded.”
Though it was all in good fun and Ventura thinks the light moment sent his team home in a much better mood than had they lost by 15 runs, Nieto said Dunn has some skills.
“Actually it wasn’t bad,” Nieto said. “He actually had some sink to his sinker and a pretty decent cutter. I was wiggling my finger for a sinker and he threw it. It’s not a bad pitch.”
It’s not a great pitch, either.
Ventura joked that Dunn — who previously called himself the second best quarterback in Chicago behind Jay Cutler — believes he has strikeout stuff and “he doesn’t.”
Asked about Conroy’s strike zone, Dunn had no doubt he was squeezed, that his second pitch would have been called had he been at the plate. But Dunn was grateful for the chance to pitch, his first since his junior year of high school.
“I always wanted to get out there and see how hard it is,” Dunn said. “I know how hard it is on the other side. I wanted to see how hard it is on that side. It’s fun. It’s something different.”
Unusual was all Dunn hoped to be, hence the slower velocity. After all, the appearance was three years in the making and Dunn knew exactly how he wanted to handle himself on the mound. He even shook off Nieto twice and went to a third pitch that the rookie identified as a cut-fastball, though Dunn had no idea what to call it.
“I was just holding the ball and spinning it one way or the other,” Dunn said. “That’s what I told Robin: I’m not going to go out there to see how hard I can throw. I just want to throw strikes and more importantly try to break somebody’s bat.”