Hours before first pitch Wednesday, Dustin May climbed the mound for a two-inning simulated game and tried to calibrate.
He was methodical and deliberate, taking his time between pitches. For some throws, a hitter stood at the plate. For others, the batter’s box was empty. Manager Dave Roberts and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt stood behind May with watchful eyes. They wanted to see if the rookie’s aggressiveness would resurface.
After an impressive three-start debut this month, May was humbled in his first relief appearance Sunday. With the Dodgers leading the Atlanta Braves 3-1 in the sixth inning, he loaded the bases before leaving a sinker over the middle that Rafael Ortega hammered for a grand slam that proved the difference in the game.
“For him to come in and throw three zeros the other day, that’s the hope,” Roberts said. “But you never know.”
Wednesday’s pregame session, which Roberts described as “an aggressive bullpen,” gave May a chance to reset. He threw about 25 pitches, according to Roberts, utilizing both the windup and the stretch. After the final toss, Roberts bumped May’s fist and headed for the dugout. Honeycutt stayed behind for an extended chat, demonstrating exaggerated pitching motions to the 21-year-old third-round pick in 2016.
“It’s more for him to see hitters, be a little bit more aggressive against a left-handed hitter, right-handed hitter,” Roberts said. “Use his mix.”
In the short-term, May will return to the rotation. Roberts said May will start during next week’s road trip, either in San Diego or Arizona. With the Dodgers’ next off day not until Sept. 5, May will be plugged in as a sixth starter to give the rest of the rotation an extra day of rest.
Beyond that, however, a bullpen role might be the red-haired right-hander’s most likely route to the postseason roster. Barring injury, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler will anchor the Dodgers’ playoff rotation, while veteran Rich Hill could be on pace to recover from a forearm strain in time to be the team’s fourth starter.
May impressed with a 2.65 ERA, 15-to-two strikeout-to-walk ratio, and steely starter’s mentality during his three starts this month. He hadn’t previously pitched out of the bullpen since a Class-A game in 2017. But to make an impact in October, he might need to adopt a reliever’s mindset.
That transition is tricky “at any level, but especially this level,” Roberts acknowledged. “But when you have a person of Dustin’s head, mindset, it makes it a better bet for us to make, especially when you have the buy-in from the player.”
A day after being optioned to triple A, right-handed pitcher Casey Sadler was recalled by the Dodgers to replace Dylan Floro, who was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left intercostal strain … Roberts balked at the idea of an MLB “mercy rule,” which was suggested by New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone last Thursday. “I understand Aaron’s thoughts, but there’s also a bigger picture,” Roberts said. “You’re taking into account TV, fans that pay good money to watch a baseball game in its entirety. ... Everyone’s got different thoughts. But that’s something I don’t see happening.”