Both debuted last season, their first since having Tommy John surgery, and both flourished. If not for the Tommy John part of that equation, both might be opening the season in the rotation.
But their work in 2020 did not provide enough innings for the Rangers to feel comfortable enough to cut them lose in 2021. There will be pitch counts, inning limits or both to protect two 26-year-old righthanders the Rangers believe can be rotation mainstays in 2022 and beyond.
They approached spring training knowing the road ahead, while also jockeying for position in the pecking order.
Cody, a 2016 sixth-rounder out of Kentucky, recorded a 1.59 ERA in 22.2 innings in 2020. Dunning, drafted by the White Sox out of Florida in the first round in 2016, put up a 3.97 ERA in 34 innings, but he estimated that he threw 90 innings last year between spring training, summer camp, the alternate training site and his first seven career starts.
“I feel ready to compete this next season,” said Dunning, who was acquired from the White Sox in the Lance Lynn trade in December. “I feel capable of taking a full year’s workload. I had plenty of innings in the alternate site and then into my debut. I feel capable and fully prepared for what’s to come.”
The Rangers have multiple young starters in similar positions as the 6-foot-7, 225-pound Cody and the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Dunning, some with major league experience, who are expected to be in the rotation at various times.
They could also end up working in a piggyback system that would curb innings but provide enough work and experience to be more viable options in 2022. Kyle Gibson and Kohei Arihara are the only starters under contract beyond this season.
“I know there’s opportunity,” Cody said. “It’s just about who kind of grabs it and kind of runs with it.”
— Among the pitchers vying for starts in 2021 are former Rangers first-rounder Luis Ortiz, a righthander who made his big league debut in 2018 with the Orioles, and lefthanders Kolby Allard, Taylor Hearn, Wes Benjamin and John King.
“Everything he pulled was top spin,” Woodward said. “To change some mechanical things, to be able to hit the ball the way he does with true backspin now to dead left field, it just shows a lot of the improvement. It’s not like he’s trying to launch every bottle left field. There’s a professional way he goes about it.”