“Everything Changed”: The Korean Big Leaguer’s Fateful Day a Year Ago…Suddenly ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ with Kim Ha Sung

“Everything Changed”: The Korean Big Leaguer’s Fateful Day a Year Ago…Suddenly ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ with Kim Ha Sung

“It changed everything.”

캡틴토토Dunning, 29, Texas Rangers, wonders what his 2023 season would have looked like if he hadn’t had hip surgery a year earlier. Dunning met with LG manager Yoon Kyung-yeop (then the KBO’s technical commissioner), who wanted to add him to South Korea’s WBC team, and he politely declined.

As a Korean-American with a Korean mother, participating in the WBC was a big deal, but for Dunning, the 2023 season was more important. After starting his major league career with the Chicago White Sox in 2020, he hadn’t really established himself. His entire career could be in jeopardy if he didn’t clean up his act.

As it was, Dunning declared himself out for the season at the end of the 2022 season, only to return from surgery with a clean bill of health. In free agency in 2023-2024, the Texans added Nathan Ivoldi and Andrew Heaney, along with specialty ace Jacob deGrom. They traded Jake Odorizzi to completely upgrade their starting rotation.

Dunning didn’t have a spot in the rotation, but he showed decent velocity in long relief and then stepped in as a backup when DeGrom went down with a health scare. Eventually, DeGrom was lost for the season to Tommy John surgery, and Dunning was fully entrenched in the rotation.

In 33 starts, he’s 11-6 with a 3.88 ERA. He doesn’t throw a mid-90s fastball, nor does he specialize in borderline pitches. Instead, he throws a lot of different pitches and aggressively attacks the strike zone. He was getting hit, and with some help from his defense, he became a regular starter. His velocity sagged a bit in September, but he’s clearly the find of the year on the Texas mound.

The Athletic listed Dunning as the 20th and final player on its list of 20 players who had breakout seasons this year. The fifth player on the list is Ha-Sung Kim (San Diego Padres). Kim is also a rising star in the 2023 class, so there’s a bit of a connection there.

“Everything changed for him this year,” said The Athletic. In 23 starts and nine relief appearances, he’s had a breakout year. He had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career.” At 2.94 per nine innings, it’s the best on a Texas mound.

In fact, he’s arguably Texas’ best pitcher this year. He’s second on the team in wins, first in innings pitched, and first in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts among pitchers who have pitched a full game. If he hadn’t had surgery and rehabbed quickly and faithfully a year ago, it’s hard to see how he could have done it this year. Korea will need to keep a close eye on Dunning as they prepare for the 2026 WBC.

Texas is a postseason favorite. Dunning will make his first postseason appearance in three years after 2020. He’s more likely to be a swingman than a starter. This could be a very useful card.

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