'Didn't know if I was going to get back here': Justin Dunn grateful to make Reds debut

·5 min read

NEW YORK – When Justin Dunn walked off the mound at the end of his outing Monday at Citi Field, he returned to the dugout and hugged members of the training staff.

It had been 418 days since the last time he pitched in the Major Leagues, sidelined because of shoulder injuries, a long road that required a lot of patience and daily rehab work. And the first thing he felt walking off the mound was gratitude toward people who helped him return to the mound Monday.

"There were a lot of times through that process where I was wondering if I’d even be able to throw a ball again normal," Dunn said, "and a lot of doubt crept into my mind."

Dunn didn't have a picture-perfect season debut, but like his rehab process, he survived the bumps. He allowed three runs in 4 2/3 innings, which included a two-run homer on his sixth pitch, in the Cincinnati Reds' 5-1 loss to the New York Mets.

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Aug 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Justin Dunn (38) reacts after striking out New York Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo (not pictured) to end the second inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Justin Dunn (38) reacts after striking out New York Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo (not pictured) to end the second inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

There were a lot of emotions inside Dunn's start. It was his first time pitching for the Reds after they acquired him and three other players from Seattle in the Jesse Winker/Eugenio Suárez trade.

He was facing the Mets, the team that drafted him in the first round in 2016, and he came up through the minor leagues with several of their players. A Long Island native, he was pitching at Citi Field for the first time.

"I was praying before the game and just got overtaken by emotion and started crying because it was like I truly didn’t know if I was going to get back here," Dunn said. "I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to come pitch on this mound, to pitch at home, to pitch in front of my family, to toe the rubber up against some of my best friends and enjoy the game and truly have fun playing."

Aug 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Justin Dunn (38) delivers a pitch against the New York Mets during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Justin Dunn (38) delivers a pitch against the New York Mets during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Dunn, who was out for the first three months of the season because of a right subscapularis muscle injury, estimated he had 50-60 family members and friends in the crowd of 28,448.

"Let’s just say I played for free today," Dunn joked. His family picked him up from JFK Airport on Sunday morning and he had a home-cooked meal before his season debut.

When he called his mom to tell her he was pitching at Citi Field on Monday, he said it was exactly how he envisioned it when he was a Mets prospect and planning to play near his hometown.

"It’s been a childhood dream for me to play in this stadium," Dunn said. "Pretty cool to finally see it through."

Aug 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Justin Dunn (38) delivers a pitch against the New York Mets during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Justin Dunn (38) delivers a pitch against the New York Mets during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Dunn induced a foul out against the last batter he faced, Pete Alonso, with a runner on third base. Dunn clapped his right hand into his glove a few times to celebrate. His at-bats against Alonso meant a little more because they've been trash talking with each other for years.

The trash talk stemmed from a matchup in the Mets' instructional league in the year after they were drafted. Alonso hit a fly ball into left field and former Mets minor leaguer Tim Tebow lost the ball in then sun. Alonso counts it as a hit; Dunn argues otherwise.

"After every at-bat, I told him, 0-for-2, 0-for-3, 0-for-4," Dunn said. "Unfortunately, (Jeff) McNeil got a hit off me tonight and I’ll never hear the end of that one. He ran to first base talking a little bit, but it was a good time. To play the game at that level and have fun with some of your best friends, it was a good time."

After giving up a two-run homer to Starling Marte in the first inning, a fastball Dunn didn't elevate like he wanted, he looked more comfortable. He says he purposefully tried to tamp down his adrenaline, which may have contributed to his lower velocity.

Albert Almora Jr. helped Dunn by robbing Francisco Lindor of a two-run homer with a leaping grab at the center-field wall in the fifth inning and Dunn showed his appreciation by tipping his cap.

Cincinnati Reds right fielder Albert Almora Jr. leaps into the wall to catch out, during the fifth inning of a baseball game against New York Mets, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in New York.
Cincinnati Reds right fielder Albert Almora Jr. leaps into the wall to catch out, during the fifth inning of a baseball game against New York Mets, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in New York.

The day was a whirlwind, Dunn said, but he was appreciative to be back in the Majors. He named seven members of the training staff in his postgame press conference.

"They helped me so much," Dunn said. "I’m eternally grateful for them. Hopefully, now, we can build in the right direction of getting back to where I was before I got hurt and get all my stuff back and get back to where I was."

The Reds, who lost Jonathan India (right hamstring) and Mike Moustakas (left calf) to injuries in the fourth inning, failed to capitalize on their opportunities against Mets starter Chris Bassitt. They went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

They stranded two runners in the fourth inning after Joey Votto drove in a run on a fielder’s choice. A broken bat popup from Aristides Aquino stranded the bases loaded in the sixth inning and two more runners were left on base in the seventh.

Bassitt completed eight innings and drew a standing ovation after striking out Aquino with his 114th pitch. Tyler Naquin, traded from the Reds to Mets on July 28, added a two-run triple in the eighth inning.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Reds lose to Mets in Justin Dunn's debut; India, Moustakas leave game