Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips
Gwinnett Braves’ Michael Dunn has made the switch from hitting to pitching. The former Yankee is trying to move up the ranks into the big leagues. As of now Dunn is the closer for the G-Braves.
LAWRENCEVILLE — When news of his trade from the Yankees to the Braves reached Michael Dunn, the pitcher immediately went to the batting cage.
A piece in the trade of Javier Vazquez for Melky Cabrera over the winter, Dunn knew he would get his first opportunity since 2006 to face live pitching when he joined his new National League team.
“I loved hitting,” said Dunn, who started his career with the Yankees as a position player.
The chance didn’t come until Gwinnett’s 15-inning game when the normal closer on the team was forced to pitch well beyond his accustomed one inning. He was third in the order and no one was available to pinch hit.
“I was pretty pumped up,” Dunn said. “They told me, ‘You are coming up third in the order.’ I was excited. I was like, ‘I need a glove, I need a helmet.’ I was pretty happy about it.”
Dunn’s outing in the extended game lasted much longer than he is now accustomed, but his results didn’t change.
Dunn threw three scoreless innings in the loss, extending his scoreless streak to a G-Braves’ season-best 142⁄3 innings. He began the year as a set-up reliever but moved into the closer’s role when the Atlanta Braves called up Craig Kimbrel on May 7.
In his three outings since then, Dunn has two saves. His ERA is a minuscule 0.49.
An imposing 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, the right-handed Dunn enjoys his one-inning role. He first got a taste of closing in Class AA and took to the chance to go after each hitter.
“I’ve always seen myself as a one-inning guy. I like it a lot,” Dunn said. “The (first) opportunity I had, I just loved it. It was a lot of fun. I ate it up.”
Finding a helmet and a pair of batting gloves gave Dunn a reason to smile, but he is a pitcher first. Always has been.
He pitched in high school and was supposed to pitch in junior college at the Community College of Southern Nevada. But the team was without a first baseman when he was a freshman and Dunn volunteered so he could play immediately. The next season he hurt his ankle and the Yankees drafted him as a position player.
“(Not pitching in junior college) actually benefited me because it took two and a half years away that I didn’t get on the mound and throw so it saved my arm,” Dunn said.
He converted back to pitcher halfway through the 2006 season and that’s when Dunn’s rise through the minors began.
By 2008, he was pitching in Class AA and he appeared in four games with the big-league Yankees last season.
Being included in the trade for Vasquez wasn’t the happiest moment for the 24-year-old, who turns 25 on Sunday. But he quickly adjusted his mindset.
“It’s bitter because the team you got drafted by ... you are like, ‘I am going to make it with this team,’” Dunn said. “I looked at this as my opportunity to make it to the big leagues and stick.”
He made it, briefly, this season but returned to Gwinnett before making an appearance. And despite his near-perfect numbers on the mound, Dunn is not thrilled with his outings so far.
“I have been blessed to have good numbers,” he said. “I haven’t thrown that great in a few of my outings and been able to get good defense behind me or get a good break here or there just to keep everything where it is.”
Like his first day at junior college when he signed up for first base or the other night when he trucked out to the mound no matter his pitch count and found a bat, Dunn’s willingness is ever-present. His results so far, speak for themselves.
“Whatever role they want me in I am going to bust my butt in that situation, whether it is long guy, short guy whatever they want,” he said. “I am going to try my best and give them everything I’ve got in any role they want me to do.”