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Dodgers

Red alert: Dodgers rookie starter Dustin May turns fiery on days he pitches

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Dustin May delivers during his second big league start, against the St. Louis Cardinals on August 7.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Dave Roberts pondered the question but couldn’t produce an answer.

Who does Dustin May remind him of?

“That’s a hard one,” the Dodgers manager said. “I’ll get back to you. I’m still trying to learn him myself.”

Indeed, the 21-year-old rookie is making a first impression almost without parallel. In two starts, his production has been promising. His presence on the mound is unique.

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“He’s got a charisma to him,” pitcher Ross Stripling said. “He’s not rattled by anything. He keeps his mouth shut, he works hard. Goes out there and takes the ball, attacks everyone.”

Roberts had some idea of what to expect when the fast-rising, flame-throwing prospect was called up at the start of August. He was told May’s emotions would be evident through mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. He predicted the right-hander, considered the top pitching prospect in the organization, would “rise to the occasion.”

So far, both have been right.

May’s delivery is funky. From the windup, long skinny limbs twist toward the plate like a tornado. From the stretch, he squats before unleashing pitches.He constantly tugs at his belt and adjusts his cap. Between batters, he unfailingly paces around the mound.\

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Excitement and anguish are on display with equal fervency. Bunny hops or a flex of his fist to celebrate strikeouts. A dejected jolt or bent-over sigh bemoan hits.

He was solid in his debut Aug. 2 and even better in his second start Wednesday, striking out seven batters and giving up only one run in six innings against the St. Louis Cardinals.Yet, he slammed a fist into his glove as he walked off the mound to end the sixth inning. Marcell Ozuna had homered two batters earlier.

“I think he knows he belongs,” catcher Russell Martin said. “He’s been good for a while now. When you have his kind of stuff, I assume he feels pretty confident when he’s on the hill.”

Catcher Will Smith said May was the same way in the minor leagues, with one noticeable difference.

“He’s a little louder [in the minors],” Smith said. “There’s not as much of a crowd” to drown him out.

Said Stripling: “He’s got some swagger. His eyes aren’t deer in the headlights. He doesn’t look intimidated by anyone.”

In the clubhouse, May is a tougher read. He’s relaxed on his days off , keen on adhering to a simple approach. He trusts the scouting reports provided by pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. He doesn’t gorge on film or overwork in bullpen sessions.

“I’ve stuck to the basics,” he said. “It’s worked so far.”

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Dodgers starter Dustin May delivers against the St. Louis Cardinals on August 7.
Dodgers starter Dustin May delivers against the St. Louis Cardinals on August 7.
(Associated Press)

He jokes around with teammates. Sometimes he’ll pull his curly locks of ginger hair into a bun with the help of a thick black headband. Though he’s the youngest player on the active roster, he has fit into his new surroundings.

“There’s always a learning curve for everyone,” Smith said. “He’s going through it, and he’s handling it really well.”

Roberts agrees.

“He’s very inquisitive,” he said. “He’s just taking everything in.”

Roberts said he lobbied in the spring for May to make the opening-day roster. Even though the third-round pick in the 2016 draft had made only six starts in double A in 2018, his heavy sinker looked ready for the big leagues.

Rookie Dustin May pitched well in his second Dodgers start, and Russell Martin hit a walk-off single in a 2-1 win over the Cardinals.

Instead, May started the year at double-A Tulsa. After 15 strong starts, including a 14-strikeout gem June 22, he was promoted to triple-A Oklahoma City. He was sought by other teams in trade talks leading up to the July 31 deadline, but no deal materialized. Now he’s holding down a spot in the Dodgers rotation, getting a major league education while auditioning for a place on the postseason roster.

“We’ve talked to him about certain things with his sequencing [of pitches],” Roberts said. “He’s watching Walker [Buehler], Clayton [Kershaw], different guys, watching their ‘pens, watching how they pitch. He just wants to learn. That’s a really good trait.”

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When it’s May’s day to pitch, his intensity surfaces. Roberts likened him to Rich Hill, famous for his polar opposite personalities on start days compared to every other day.

Two weeks into his big league career, he’s not bending to the pressure. He’s waking up on game day with a fiery focus .

“It feels the same,” May said. “I don’t know if there’s necessarily an excitement, but just the knowledge of, ‘I’m up here,’ is different. A lot cooler.”


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