Dustin May's mechanics improve, so do his results, and he's ready for the ball again

Mike DiGiovanna
·6 min read
Arlington, Texas, Friday, October 16, 2020. Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Dustin May.
The Dodgers' Dustin May pitches in Game 5 of the NLCS at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Dustin May said the adjustments he made were mechanical. Dave Roberts thought they were more mental. It matters not who is correct — the Dodgers right-hander with the blazing fastball and fiery red hair or the manager trying to guide the club to its first World Series championship since 1988.

What’s important is that changes were made that enabled May to regain his dominant form, a better-late-than-never development that played a significant role in Sunday night’s 4-2 victory in Game 5 over the Tampa Bay Rays and could impact the rest of the series.

Ineffective in his previous three playoff appearances, May was almost untouchable, replacing starter Clayton Kershaw with two outs in the sixth inning and retiring five of the six batters he faced, two by strikeout, and giving up one hit, a single.

The seemingly jittery rookie who could barely throw a strike in his first World Series appearance attacked the zone with confidence and gusto, throwing strikes on 22 of 30 pitches.

May didn’t nibble. He didn’t try to fool anyone. He threw 20 two-seam sinking fastballs with an average velocity of 99.5 mph and a high of 100.7 mph. The five four-seam fastballs he threw averaged 100.7 mph with a high of 101.5 mph.

“I think he just did a great job of slowing things down,” Roberts said. “He’s a very emotional guy, amped up, a super competitor. But in this moment, the adrenaline is already there. You don’t need to create any more.

“I think being on the mound a couple of times in this setting, he kind of tempered that a little bit and just executed pitches, and it was really fun to watch.”

May made six appearances this postseason before Sunday, including a two-inning, three-strikeout hitless stint in the Division Series opener against San Diego, but he looked uncomfortable and out of sorts in his previous three games.

May lasted two innings in an NL Championship Series Game 5 start against Atlanta, giving up two runs and three hits, walking two and striking out three in a 7-3 Dodgers victory.

He looked lost in his Game 7 start against the Braves, walking the first two batters of the game on eight pitches and giving up an RBI single to Marcell Ozuna before completing the inning in an eventual 4-3 win.

May entered Game 2 of the World Series with two outs and one on in the fourth and the Dodgers trailing 1-0. He gave up a single to Manuel Margot and a two-run double to Joey Wendle in the fourth and a two-run homer to Brandon Lowe in the fifth, and the Dodgers lost 6-4.

Dodgers pitcher Dustin May yells out.
Dodgers pitcher Dustin May yells out after left fielder Joc Pederson snags a line drive for an out in Game 5 of the World Series. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

But May looked like a different pitcher Sunday, and his return to form could give Roberts another multi-inning relief weapon in a Game 6 in which the manager likely will lean heavily on his bullpen.

Looking back on his previous outings, did the 6-foot-6, 180-pound May recognize he was too excited?

“I mean, not really,” May said Monday. “My delivery was out of whack, so it was kind of throwing everything off, and I wasn't executing pitches.”

May said the two-mph velocity bump from the regular season was because of improved mechanics, not extra adrenaline.

“Just being able to sync down my legs a little more and not just kind of fall toward home plate, but to kind of drive,” May said. “That definitely allowed me to have more strength going forward.

“I just had to make some mechanical cues in my delivery to kind of smooth it out and get back to the norms. [Sunday] night, I definitely felt more normal and more composed, I would say, throwing the ball.”

Teachable moments 

The Rays, to the surprise of no one in their clubhouse, have clearly proven they belong in the World Series, finishing with an American League-best 40-20 record and taking the heavily favored Dodgers to Game 6 after eliminating the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Houston Astros in playoff series.

“Going back to spring training [in February], we expected this,” Rays reliever Ryan Thompson said. “If we didn’t get here, it would have been a failure, a disappointment.”

That Thompson, the sidearm-throwing 28-year-old who spent seven years in the minor leagues before reaching the big leagues in 2020, is playing a prominent role is something of an upset.

“I had a fun conversation with Stan [Boroski, bullpen coach] on Sunday, and he asked me, ‘What were you doing a year ago today?’ ” Thompson said. “I was like, ‘I was substitute teaching, doing lessons, doing a Wii dance club. … I was trying to make as much money as I could so I could afford training, and I was in triple A.”

A Wii dance club?

Thompson, from the tiny Oregon town of Turner, has spent offseasons as a substitute teacher, often filling in for his mother, a physical education teacher, and anywhere else he’s needed.

“I’ve done computers, science, health, history, math,” said Thompson, who has a 1.93 earned-run average in nine playoff appearances and has not given up a hit in three against the Dodgers. “I’ll do it all, whatever you want.”

Including running an after-school club in which kids mimic dances using a Wii video game console.

“We would have a blast. I enjoyed it, and it was an extra $30 a week,” Thompson said. “In the minor leagues, that makes a big difference.”

Short hops

Roberts said he’s considering starting Austin Barnes, who usually catches Kershaw and Walker Buehler, behind the plate and regular catcher Will Smith at designated hitter Tuesday night. … Rays manager Kevin Cash said he’s trying to find a way to get right-handed-hitting utility man Yandy Diaz, “who is starting to swing the bat a little better here,” in his Game 6 lineup. … Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger, relegated to DH because of back tightness in Game 4, “came out great” from Game 5, Roberts said. The back “didn’t really bother him” Sunday night, and Bellinger is expected to start in center again in Game 6.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.