WASHINGTON — Justin Dunn’s final pitches of his very successful 2018 baseball season came on the mound at Citi Field on Sept. 11. They didn’t count. But they mattered as much as any he’s thrown in his professional career.
Dunn, the righthander from Freeport, pitched against David Wright in a simulated game. Wright did not get in many good swings against Dunn or the minor-league lefthander (David Peterson) who followed.
Two days later, Wright announced he will end his comeback bid after one final appearance on Sept. 29.
Dunn’s next appearance on the Citi Field mound will be for real — and it could come as early as next season, Mets manager Mickey Callaway said on Thursday.
“He’s on our radar, for sure,” Callaway said. “I think if he continues to improve the way he’s done this year that you’re going to see him at some point in a Mets uniform next year.”
Callaway’s comments were an early birthday present for Dunn, who turns 23 on Saturday. Dunn went 8-8 with a 3.59 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 135 1⁄3 combined innings for Class A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton in his third professional season after getting selected by the Mets in the first round (16th overall) out of Boston College in the 2016 draft.
“It’s great to know I’m on the radar and that I’m one step closer to my dream,” Dunn said on Friday in a telephone interview. “But I still have to go pitch and do what I can do to get ready so that they can ultimately make the call and say that I am ready to go up. So I just have to keep pitching and doing what I did last year and learning each time I go out on the mound.”
Dunn went 2-3 with a 2.36 ERA in nine starts with St. Lucie and 6-5, 4.22 in 15 outings for Binghamton.
“The best part of my season was probably the second half of the first half with St. Lucie,” Dunn said. “Things kind of started to click a little bit. Control got a little better, my mechanics tightened up and my command started to come around, and that’s when I kind of felt my outings taking off and making the jump into more big-league outings. I won’t say big-league quality yet, but definitely starting to get there and get that feel and understand how to control my pitches and be the same pretty much every time I go out.”
Dunn was at Citi Field earlier this month as part of a Mets postseason development program for top prospects. That’s when he was tapped to pitch to Wright.
“That was really cool,” Dunn said. “For me being from New York, obviously, growing up, I either wanted to take their jobs or face them, but I never knew if I’d get the chance to do either one of them. The first time I met David was when he was rehabbing with us in St. Lucie. Got a chance to see how great of a guy he was and the second time was facing him. To be able to go out and do that on his field — I mean, he’s the captain — so to go out there and do that against him, to get a chance to shake his hand after and help him get ready to come back on the 29th is even bigger of a moment now than I knew, since it’ll be his last time on the field.”
After it was over, Dunn said Wright told him his stuff “looked pretty good and to keep working.”
On Friday, Wright said of Dunn, “Very impressive. He’s a mid-90s guy, and once he gets consistency on his slider, he’s going to be tough, especially on a righty.”
Wright said he thought Dunn’s slider, at its best, was “Corey Kluber-like.”
High praise indeed.
Wright’s final game on the 29th is a pretty hot ticket. Might Dunn try to be in the stands for it? He does have an in as a possible future Mets major-leaguer (at least according to his possible future manager).
“We’ll see,” Dunn said. “I think I might have some family in that weekend. But they’ll understand if I need to get away for that one. I’m going to try.”