Prior to Parker Dunshee's start on Wednesday night, Aviators manager Fran Riordan praised the right-handed pitcher for his competitiveness and aggressiveness, but mentioned one minor critique: "I'd like to see him be a little bit more efficient," Riordan said. "He hasn't gone that deep in his starts because of his [high] pitch counts."
About an hour later, Dunshee went out and promptly had his most inefficient start since being promoted to Triple-A on May 13: Facing the Round Rock Express, he was tagged for six runs (five earned) on six hits and four walks in an 11-5 loss. Worst of all, he lasted just 2 1/3 innings and threw only 34 of his 62 pitches for strikes.
On Sunday afternoon, Dunshee returned to the mound, this time against the San Antonio Missions. And this time, the 24-year-old gave his skipper exactly what he was looking for.
In one of the best performances any starting pitcher has delivered at Las Vegas Ballpark all season, Dunshee scattered four hits over six innings, struck out five and, most importantly, didn't walk a batter. And he did it all on just three days' rest.
The only negative for Dunshee? He gave up single runs in the fifth and sixth innings, and that's all the Missions (40-24) needed to pull out a 4-1 victory before a sun-drenched crowd of 7,846 in the third game of a four-game series.
Despite being saddled with the defeat, Dunshee (1-4) executed his game plan to near perfection. He threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 22 batters he faced, including 11 of the first 13 and each of the first seven. What's more, but Dunshee didn't throw more than 15 pitches in any inning, and 49 of his 67 pitches were for strikes - in other words, he was the picture of efficiency.
"That was kind of the mindset coming in - just fill up the zone [with strikes], and if they hit hit it, they hit it," Dunshee said after the game. "But I didn't want to beat myself with walks like I did in my last outing. I had to right the ship on that, and today I did a better [job] attacking the zone - my fastball command was way better than it was four days ago."
Dunshee struck out the side in the first, fanned five of the first seven San Antonio hitters who came to the plate and faced just one batter over the minimum through 4 1/3 innings, only allowing a two-out, third-inning double to left fielder Troy Stokes Jr. Not only did Dunshee throw 12 pitches or fewer in five of his six innings, but he never threw more than five balls in any one frame.
Needless to say, his manager was impressed.
"He threw the ball really well today," Riordan said of Dunshee, who was on a 75-pitch limit. "Obviously, his command was the big thing - he had command of his entire arsenal, kept them off-balance and located his fastball well.
"For him to get through six innings on 67 pitches - that was a clinic on how to attack hitters."
Indeed, everything was going smoothly for Dunshee, who took a 1-0 lead into the top of the fifth inning. But with one out, Missions catcher Jacob Nottingham legged out a double and came around to score when third baseman Jake Hager lined Dunshee's first pitch into center field.
Dunshee averted further damage by retiring the next two batters, but in the top of the sixth, shortstop Mauricio Dubon gave the Missions a 2-1 lead when his deep fly ball to right field barely cleared the wall and landed in the Las Vegas bullpen.
That was enough for San Antonio starter Bubba Derby and three relief pitchers, who combined to hold the Aviators (34-30) to five singles while stranding eight baserunners. Like Dunshee, Derby (3-3) pitched six strong innings, yielding just three hits and four walks, with Las Vegas' only run coming in the second inning when Eric Campbell's groundout scored Franklin Barreto.
The Aviators have now lost four of their last five games, scoring just two runs in each of the past two. That's the downside. The upside? Riordan finally got to see a highly efficient Parker Dunshee, while Aviators fans got to see why the Indiana native is one of the top pitching prospects in the Oakland A's system.
"If you look at Parker's numbers, that's who he's proven to be at every level he's performed at," Riordan said. "There's always an adjustment period when you go up a level and you're facing better hitters and adjusting to a new environment. But he's a smart kid and a competitive kid, so I think that learning curve will be very small."
GAME NOTES: Right-handed reliever Miguel Romero followed Dunshee and pitched two scoreless innings, yielding only a bloop single while striking out four. … The Missions scored two insurance runs in the ninth against Aviators right-hander J.B. Wendelken. … Las Vegas shortstop Jorge Mateo made two spectacular plays in the field, but his 15-game hitting streak was halted after he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. … It was an emotional start for Derby, who attended the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, when a gunman shot and killed 58 concertgoers and wounded nearly 1,000 others. During Saturday's pregame memorial for 1 October victims and survivors, Derby caught the ceremonial first pitch thrown by a man whose mother was killed in the shooting. … Sunday's crowd pushed the Aviators' season attendance over the 320,000 mark. Through 34 games, Las Vegas Ballpark has hosted 323,507 fans, good for a per-game average of 9,515; both figures lead all of minor-league baseball.
ROSTER SHUFFLE: The Oakland A's optioned pitcher Paul Blackburn back to Las Vegas on Sunday, one day after the right-hander made a spot start against the Texas Rangers in the first game of a doubleheader.
In a corresponding move, the A's promoted Tanner Anderson from Las Vegas, and the 26-year-old right-hander will make his first career big-league start Monday in Tampa Bay. Anderson's only major league experience came last season when he appeared in six games out of the bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitching 11 1/3 innings.
ON DECK: The Aviators conclude their four-game series against the Missions (and cap their seven-game homestand) at 7:05 p.m. Monday. Daniel Mengden (3-2, 2.77 ERA) will make his first start since being optioned back to Las Vegas from Oakland last week, and he'll oppose fellow right-hander Aaron Wilkerson (5-0, 0.40).
Following Monday's game, the Aviators will enjoy an off day before embarking on a seven-game road trip to Tennessee, where they will face the Nashville Sounds (June 12-14) and Memphis Redbirds (June 15-18).
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.