SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Mike Dunn is smiling – again.
He’s having a good time.
He is healthy – finally.
For two years, the left-handed reliever tried to pitch through a shoulder pain that wouldn’t go away. He survived in 2017, but a year ago he cried uncle. And after trying a couple less impactful approaches to treating the ailment he finally underwent surgery last fall.
And he is back – pain-free and dominating hitters – anxious to be that late-inning lefthander the Rockies are counting on playing a critical role in the bullpen this season.
He has made eight one-inning appearances, allowing three hits, no walks, striking out 10 and being charged with one unearned run.
“The last couple of years, I’d walk out of the bullpen, natural soreness, I thought,” he said. “This year? I walk out of the bullpen wanting to throw 20, 30 more pitches. I feel great. The season’s a grind. I know that, but I am looking forward to it again.”
He battled his way through 68 appearances in 2017, but his 4.47 ERA was his highest in five years. And then came 2018, where he had to face reality that there was something definitely wrong. Ten appearances into the season, he went on the 10-day disabled list, tried to pitch for a month before another trip to the DL, and then, when he returned, his big-league season ended after appearances July 1 and July 3.
He had made only 25 appearances, working a total of 17 innings in which he not only allowed 17 runs, but gave up 22 hits and issued 18 walks – none of which were intentional.
He did go on a minor-league rehab assignment, hoping to be able to be a help in the Rockies post-season push in September, but after a decent effort in his first appearance at Triple-A Albuquerque, he never even made it out of the bullpen for a scheduled second time on the mound.
“Things had gone so well before but I thought another cortisone shot, and I’d be back,” he said. “But that last time, I felt a sensation in the shoulder.”
That’s when the decision was made for surgery.
He had tried a rehab program. That didn’t work. Then came PRP treatment – the injection of platelet rich plasma – and there was no relief. Surgery was the last option – other than retirement.
“My mindset from the beginning was I was going to come back,” he said. “I was not ready to accept the fact I was at the end.”
And it turned out, he wasn’t.
In fact, when the doctors operated, they removed a piece of floating cartilage in the AC joint, but little else.
“It was like a car maintenance, just change the oil and check everything,” he said. “The rotator cuff looked great. The biceps tendon was in great shape. I was told with that surgery the odds were very good. It wasn’t like they had to staple or stitch. It was just cleanup.”
Then, however, came the next challenge – rehab.
And there were moments, Dunn admits, he was wondering if he really was on the right track.
“At first, it was so painful I couldn’t throw hard,” he said. “I was lobbing the ball. It was excruciating (pain). But the doctors told me that was normal. They had a program and I followed it to a tee.
“Once we stretched out to where I could throw the ball 120 feet I moved in and threw hard. I was tentative at first, but when I was done, I walked away feeling good. There was normal soreness, but nothing more.”
The next step was up to Dunn. He had to get ready for spring training.
“They held me back at the start of spring training,” he said. “I would throw 50 pitches in the bullpen, similar to what I would do in two innings of work and it felt great. Every step, I passed with flying colors.”
There’s no holding back now. Dunn is healthy and eager to be a factor in the Rockies bid for the first division title in franchise history.