San Francisco Giants: First Impression of New Reliever Sam Dyson

Mar 22, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; United States pitcher Sam Dyson (47) gets high-fives after pitching the 7th inning against Puerto Rico during the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 22, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; United States pitcher Sam Dyson (47) gets high-fives after pitching the 7th inning against Puerto Rico during the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports /

New San Francisco Giants reliever Sam Dyson made his team debut on Sunday, and his first impressive could have been better, but it definitely could have been a lot worse.

The San Francisco Giants took a 13-5 lead into the ninth inning on Sunday, giving manager Bruce Bochy a fine opportunity to use his brand new reliever, Sam Dyson, who was just acquired from the Texas Rangers earlier in the week. The low-pressure situation was perfect for Dyson, who struggled badly in Texas before being designated for assignment.

From his first pitch, it was easy to see why Dyson was, not too long ago, a great reliever and the Rangers’ closer. His power sinker lived up to its name: it was powerful, and it was sinking. He threw 22 pitches in his debut, which was his first appearance since the last day of May, and mostly stuck to his bread and butter sinker.

It was also easy to see why Dyson owned a 10.80 ERA and had walked 12 batters in 16.2 innings. He threw five pitches to leadoff hitter Miguel Sano, and three of them were nowhere near the strike zone. One pitch was at the bottom part of the zone, and Sano could only foul it off. Dyson’s 3-1 pitch was center-cut, and Sano took advantage. He ripped a double past left fielder Austin Slater, who had no chance at making the catch. All five pitches to Sano were sinkers.

The next hitter was Robbie Grossman, and Dyson started him with a changeup. It showed similar arm-side run and drop to his two-seam sinker, but also sailed way out of the zone. He poured in the second pitch of the at-bat, a straight fastball, for a strike, but it was still away from catcher Nick Hundley‘s target. He went back to the changeup in the 1-1 count, and it was a good one. It stayed down, and Grossman was out in front as he fouled it away. The fourth pitch was another sinker, at the bottom of the strike zone, and Dyson got the groundball he was pitching for.

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This was the start of a run of some bad luck for Dyson. The grounder was softly hit toward shortstop Brandon Crawford, and he made an uncharacteristic mistake. Crawford juggled the ball and couldn’t get a grip out of his glove, allowing Grossman to reach on an infield single and Sano to reach third.

With runners on the corners, Dyson went to work against Jason Castro. His first pitch was another sinker that sailed way away from the zone, and his second pitch was a changeup that, while closer to a strike, still sailed. On Dyson’s third pitch, his back-foot slipped off the mound, resulting in a world-class scud and wild pitch. To his credit, Dyson was back up quickly and covering home, keeping Sano at third base as Grossman took second.

The pitch after was probably his best pitch to that point. He returned to his trusted sinker, and spotted it perfectly on the low outside corner of the zone. In a different count, this is exactly what he needs to throw to get his groundballs. But it was a 3-0 count, and the fifth pitch of the at-bat was another sinker that was not close to the zone for ball four.

Pitching coach Dave Righetti went out for a chat after the walk, and whatever the veteran coach said to Dyson seemed to work. Facing Eduardo Escobar, Dyson began to find a release point and was able to throw good sinkers. His first pitch was another hard sinker, and it cut through the zone before settling on the outside black for strike one.  Dyson followed with a changeup to the same location, and Escobar was only able to tip it into Hundley’s glove. He backed it up with another change, and Escobar fouled it straight down off his leg.

Dyson threw a third straight changeup, and this one had very nice, straight-down bite that took it below the zone. Escobar was out in front and fouled it into Minnesota’s dugout. Another fastball under the zone was fouled off to the left side. Dyson’s 20th pitch was another sinker for a ball inside, but it was a competitive pitch that was, at least, close to the zone. A hard, straight fastball followed at the knees, but Escobar fouled it back again.

Escobar finally put the eighth pitch of the at-bat in play, and the low sinker did its job. Dyson got another groundball, but again couldn’t get an out. First baseman Buster Posey booted the grounder, allowing everyone to be safe, including Sano at home. Sano was going to score either way, but it was the second time in the inning that Dyson got a groundball right at an infielder, and got nothing to show for it.

Escobar would be Dyson’s last hitter, with Bryan Morris (Dyson’s former teammate with the Miami Marlins) replacing him on the mound. Bochy said after the game that he didn’t want to stress Dyson’s arm too much after having an 11-day layoff between appearances. Two of the inherited runners would score, leaving Dyson with three earned runs allowed and no outs recorded.

Dyson had good movement and velocity on his pitches, averaging 94.6 miles per hour on 15 fastballs, and 88.5 mph on six changeups. There was also the pitch where he slipped, which was marked by statcast as a curveball, a pitch he has thrown six percent of the time this year. That six mph difference from fastball to offspeed is enough to keep hitters from sitting too heavily on one speed.

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The stuff is that of a pitcher that can be an extremely effective weapon out of the bullpen. His sinker has plenty of movement, and if it’s being located well, it will result in a ton of groundballs. The problem on Sunday was location, however. Too often, his pitches sailed way out of the strikezone, not even putting the idea of swinging in hitter’s minds. His command was much better after Righetti’s visit, so he may have had a mechanical fix that helped him locate better.

It’s also very likely that Dyson’s confidence has taken a huge hit. He gave up a lot of hits and home runs in Texas, and has lost confidence in his pitches as a result. He might not be willing to aim towards the middle of the strikezone, and instead wants to try and nibble at the edges of the zone. Because his pitches have so much movement, him trying to nibble results in uncompetitive pitches that are too far out of the zone to swing at. It probably also didn’t help his confidence that he got a few groundballs and none of them turned into outs, and that he slipped on the new mound. That Murphy’s Law mindset could be creeping into his mind, if it hasn’t already.

The 29-year-old hurler has only been with the team for three days, and this was his first live action with the team. That now gives him, his catchers, and Righetti something to work with as they attempt to build him back up to a stellar pitcher. The coaching staff can now try to work their magic, and fix what they see is wrong with Dyson, mechanically or mentally or even both.

Next: Giants 3 Up, 3 Down: Twins

Dyson’s debut was less than stellar, but it could have been much worse. This is a good starting point for everyone involved. If anyone can help Dyson overcomes his physical and/or mental hurdles, Righetti is the man for the job. That pitcher that threw to a 2.45 ERA from 2014 to 2016 could still be in there, just waiting for someone to pull him out of the dungeon. He just needs a chance.