What a difference a year makes.
At this point in 2015, right-hander Ryan Dull was beginning to wonder if he’d ever get out of the Texas League. The Oakland A’s 2012 32nd round pick reached the Double-A level at the tail-end of his first full professional season, but two years later, he was still riding the busses with the Midland RockHounds.
Low-round picks like Dull learn early in their careers that they need to make their own opportunities. Dull has done nothing but excel since signing his first professional contract, but it took an extraordinary performance with the RockHounds last summer for the A’s to finally give Dull an opportunity at the Triple-A level. After posting an 0.60 ERA in 45 innings with the RockHounds, Dull earned a promotion to Triple-A at the end of July. He didn’t waste his chance in the Pacific Coast League, posting a 1.13 ERA in 16 innings, striking out 21 in the process.
When September came along, Dull got the call he could hardly have dreamed was possible just a few months earlier: he was headed to the big leagues. In a season that was filled mostly with disappointment, the A’s had a feel-good story in their homegrown reliever, who struck-out 16 in 17 innings and was the A’s top bullpen arm in September until a late-season hiccup. After the season, Dull was named the A’s minor league pitcher of the year, a rare achievement for a reliever.
Despite his success in 2015 and a minor league track record that includes a 2.07 ERA and a 259:49 K:BB in 205 career innings, Dull wasn’t guaranteed a spot in the A’s revamped bullpen coming into spring training. He quickly erased any doubts about whether he belonged back in the big leagues with a strong spring, however, and Dull has been a vital part of the A’s bullpen since Opening Day. Through Wednesday, Dull has a 2.83 ERA and an 0.91 WHIP in 28.2 innings for Oakland.
The enormity of what Dull has accomplished over the past 12 months hasn’t been lost on the UNC-Asheville alum.
“It’s always good to take the time to look back and remember where you came from and you realize that it was all worth it to be where you are now,” Dull said before the A’s 5-1 win over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday.
Dull says that his time with the A’s last September gave him the confidence coming into this season that he could handle a variety of roles in the big leagues.
“September helped out a lot. It gave me a broad idea of where I was at,” Dull said. “After that experience, I knew that I could do it [pitch in the big leagues]. It was just a matter of going out there and executing and taking that mentality to the off-season. I spent that time thinking about how I am going to execute each pitch down-the-road.”
Two months into the season, Dull is already improving on his September 2015 performance with the A’s. Dull’s strike-percentage and strike-out percentage are both up, while his walk and homerun rates are lower. Big league hitters are batting .181 against him.
This season, Dull has filled a number of roles for the A’s: from long reliever in the early innings to rally extinguisher in the middle innings to late-inning set-up man. On Tuesday, Dull entered the game in the fifth inning with one-on and two-outs. He stranded that inherited runner and then worked a scoreless sixth inning, earning his first win of the season. He followed up that performance with a scoreless seventh inning on Wednesday.
Dull’s performance on Tuesday extended his streak of stranding inherited runners to 22, a run that has lasted all season. Dull says that frame of mind plays a big role in his ability to come into games with runners on base and prevent them from scoring.
“You’ve got to be ready whenever you are called upon,” Dull said. “You just have to go into it and not let the situation get too big for you.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin has enjoyed the luxury of being able to use Dull with runners on base.
“That’s part of the reason that we had him up in the game [on Tuesday] when we did because we knew there would probably be some guys on. He’s been great about it,” Melvin said. “Certain guys, you target more clean innings for and certain guys you know you can bring in in those types of situations. He’s done pretty well, so we’ll keep doing it with him.”
With the rash of injuries the A’s have suffered through in May, Dull has seen several of his former minor league teammates join the A’s for periods of time in May and has enjoyed living the big league experience with them. He says he keeps in touch with his former teammates, many of whom are a phone call away from the big leagues in Nashville.
“I keep in contact with all of those guys just to see how they are doing. You never know when it could be their turn up here, as well,” Dull said.
Other A’s Notes:
Going into their off-day on Thursday, the A’s are riding a five-game winning streak and are back within shouting distance of .500 with a 25-29 overall record. The A’s are starting to get their roster healthy once again. Josh Phegley and Jed Lowrie recently returned from the disabled list and R.J. Alvarez and Sonny Gray might not be far behind. Alvarez (Friday) and Gray (Sunday) are scheduled to make rehab appearances for High-A Stockton this weekend. Reliever Liam Hendriks is also expected to throw a simulated game in Stockton on Saturday while the A’s are on the road in Houston.