SAN DIEGO—Dustin May showed his prodigious talent in his major league debut last year.
As a 21-year-old, he came up and posted a 3.63 ERA for the Dodgers in the heat of the pennant race. They carried him on their postseason roster, where he memorably pitched two scoreless innings of relief on the road against the eventual World Series champions.
That was just the first glimpse of May’s ability. Now in year two, the No. 22 prospect in baseball is taking the next step.
May pitched a career-high six innings with a career-high eight strikeouts to lead the Dodgers to a 5-2 win over the Padres on Tuesday. The 22-year-old righthander sat 96-100 mph on his two-seam fastball and 92-96 mph on his cutter from start to finish, a display of power that left his teammates searching for superlatives.
“You don’t get much better than that for just pure stuff,” Dodgers outfielder A.J. Pollock said. “He had it last year too. I think this year he’s just throwing with a lot more confidence.”
By any measure, May has taken a leap. His average fastball velocity has ticked up from 96 mph last year to 98 mph this year. His cutter has jumped from 91 mph to 93 mph on average. His curveball has gone from averaging 83 mph to averaging 86 mph, getting both tighter and harder.
And he’s done that all without sacrificing his control. He threw 71 percent (58 of 82) of his pitches for strikes on Tuesday, up from his career average of 66 percent.
“For me going forward it’s just pounding the zone,” May said. “Just getting my balls more over the plate and allowing the hitters to make mistakes.
“Tonight I felt like I took a big step forward. I just need to keep taking steps off of that and locating pitches.”
Constant improvement has been the theme of May’s career. His fastball sat 88-92 mph when the Dodgers drafted him in the third round in 2016 out of his Texas high school. Two years later, he was sitting 93-96 mph and rapidly integrating his newly developed cutter. Fast forward another two years to the present day, and he’s holding 96-100 mph deep into outings as a starter.
“I worked out a lot in the weight room and put probably about 20 pounds on,” May said. “That was probably my biggest thing this offseason, just putting weight on and getting a little stronger.
“I feel the same as I did last year, it’s just like there’s more strength behind the pitch. It’s just coming out a little better.”
May’s velocity is only a part of the equation. The substantial armside movement on his two-seamer and gloveside movement on his cutter compound his high-octane velocity. In many ways, his movement has become his signature trait.
He needed only three batters to create a viral moment with that movement on Tuesday. In the first inning, he threw a 99 mph two-seamer to Manny Machado that began in the middle of the plate and finished in the righthanded batters box, generating a feeble swing and miss from a flummoxed Machado for an inning-ending strikeout.
“I couldn’t imagine a better pitch as far as on the filth meter,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It started middle-in and I think it ended up six to eight inches in. That just speaks to the depth and the run, and now you’re talking about 99 mph. It made a really, really good hitter look pretty bad.”
That’s not to say May was perfect. He threw one sinker that stayed in the middle of the plate that Fernando Tatis Jr. lined it down the right field line for an RBI double in the third inning. In the fourth, he left a hanging curveball that Jake Cronenworth launched over the right-field fence for his first career home run.
But May was able to limit the damage to just those two runs. Overall he retired 18 of the 22 batters he faced, most with relative ease.
Once the Dodgers rallied for two runs in the fifth and Pollock delivered a go-ahead RBI double in the sixth, May secured his first win of 2020.
“It was pretty nasty,” Pollock said. “He’s gaining a lot of confidence and obviously when you watch his stuff he’s pretty electric. It’s fun watching him go out there and just get better and better. We’re going to be counting on him for sure.”