Fresno Grizzlies reliever Jake Dunning searches for old magic

The Fresno BeeJune 11, 2014 

Jake Dunning is a right-handed reliever in the San Francisco Giants organization.


Somewhere between Fresno and Pittsburgh, Jake Dunning lost his form.

It either vanished on the right-hander's way to join parent club San Francisco during a road trip in May or after his return to Fresno about 24 hours later.

Either way, he hasn't been the same.

Once one of the more reliable relievers in the Giants organization, Dunning has slumped for more than a month. He's allowed 18 earned runs in his past 15 2/3 innings after being sent down May 6.

"It's hard to get into somebody's head but it does seem that he's in his own head," Grizzlies pitching coach Dwight Bernard said. "It's a tough thing to get called down. We're just trying to start from scratch and look back at what worked for him before."

Prior to the brief call-up, the 25-year-old Dunning was 0-1 with a 2.51 ERA in 14 1/3 innings with the Grizzlies. He had held opponents to a .163 average (8-49).

Then he joined the Giants and had a disastrous outing against the Pirates. Dunning lasted two-thirds of an inning and threw a pair of wild pitches that allowed two inherited runners to score.

The next day, it was back to Fresno.

He is 0-0 with a 10.34 ERA and one save since. Opponents are hitting .409 (27-66) in his past 11 appearances.

"Just made some mistakes and those guys capitalized," Dunning said Wednesday. "Those guys are good, too. I've got to go out and execute my pitches better. Get back to what I'd been doing and keep the ball down."

Dunning spent about an hour Tuesday with Bernard reviewing video — of good times and bad. It became clear that Dunning wasn't consistently repeating the mechanics of his delivery.

Bernard said Dunning started aiming once he got in a bind and his release point was off. What Bernard can't fully measure is the mental aspect of how much the demotion has played into it all.

Dunning said it hasn't.

"It's the highs and lows of this game," said Dunning, who spent much of last season with the Giants, going 0-2 with a 2.84 ERA in 25 1/3 innings. "It's part of the game. There was no hurt feelings.

"Wherever you're at, it's where you're at. I just went back to work and kept trying."

Bernard believes Dunning's struggles have been physical and mental. Grizzlies manager Bob Mariano agreed.

"Yeah, he hasn't looked the same in a while," Mariano said. "He's got the stuff. He's shown he can succeed at this level and in the majors. It happens. He'll find his way back. I know he and Dwight are working on things."

The bar is low for Dunning, who did not pitch in Wednesday's 10-1 win over Iowa. In his most recent game, he allowed five runs on three hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning Monday.

But the path to regaining his prior form might take some time.

"He's just got to stick with it, fix those mechanical things," Bernard said. "Maybe he's been pressing a little bit. So he's just got to relax a little more.

"It's in him. We just got to get him back to the pitcher I remember he was, who did a lot of good things, repeated his delivery, had good pitches, kept the ball down and didn't walk guys."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6362, or @Banteola_TheBee on Twitter.

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