At the lower levels of minor league baseball, pitchers become dominant starters after adding a third reliable pitch. But by mastering the slider – his third legitimate pitch – this offseason, right-hander Ryan Dull has become an all-star pitcher at the back end of manager Ryan Christensen's bullpen.
The 23-year-old Dull has been as reliable as they come for the Snappers this season, posting a 2.19 ERA in 24.2 innings across 19 games. He's also posted a remarkable 35:3 K:BB rate, while recording 12 saves. The Midwest League has taken notice, as Dull was recently named one of six all-stars from Beloit.
"It is a big achievement for me and shows I've put some hard work in," said Dull, who was a 32nd-round selection in last June's draft. "Being in the bullpen has helped and I've been put in the right situations. It's good to be an all-star.
"I did a lot of work in the offseason making [all of my pitches more] consistent. The slider last year wasn't as consistent as I wanted it to be. [Former A's minor-league pitching coordinator] Gil [Patterson] worked with me a lot on it and we tried about 10 different grips. We tried cutter, slider, anything that would be consistent. Finding a grip that worked helped me the most."
Dull was certainly no slouch in his first two stops last summer after being drafted out of UNC-Ashville. He spent a few weeks in Arizona before flying to Vermont on July 5th to finish the season with the Lake Monsters. While splitting time between the AZL and the New York-Penn League, Dull threw 31.2 innings and struck out 47 while walking nine.
But it was the addition of a third pitch that has allowed Dull to take the next step in becoming a dominant force in the MWL.
"He's got three pitches that he can use in any situation, which makes him a good matchup against a righty or lefty," Christensen said. "Ryan provides us with a lot of confidence throwing him in the game, because he throws so many strikes.
"He's a bulldog. He doesn't let [adversity] phase him and that's what you want as your closer or a guy with a short-inning role. He keeps coming after guys."
Dull was anointed the Snappers' closer early in the season, although the bullpen innings were tricky to manage with six piggy-backing pitchers at the front-end of games.
He tackled the challenge by approaching each outing as if he were still a starter, which means throwing more pitches than a normal reliever.
"The first few days they took me in the office and said they were putting me at the back-end of the bullpen," Dull said. "I've embraced it. They put me there because I'm getting ahead, throwing a lot of strikes and getting quick outs.
"For right now they want me in the bullpen and still throwing all three of my pitches. Even though I'm in the bullpen, they don't want me to be a two-pitch pitcher, but use all three."
Dull said that, in addition to his new-found slider, he's throwing a 92-93 MPH fastball, as well as a change-up.
As with any pitcher going through a league the second time, Dull's challenge now is always staying one step ahead of hitters. That means throwing different pitches in different situations, while continuing to throw strikes.
"I'm changing my sequences a little bit, so they don't know what they're going to get right away," Dull said. "I've set up hitters a little differently, so they're not as comfortable in the box. I just need to stay consistent with that throughout the season and not have too many hiccups."