The Dodgers were hoping for incremental improvements out of Dustin May on Friday night.
Over five hitless innings, the hard-throwing right-hander delivered much more.
In his best start since he returned from Tommy John surgery last month, May was as clinical as he was overpowering in the Dodgers’ 5-0 win over the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park.
His fastball command was much more consistent than in his first four starts, as he walked just one batter while finding the strike zone with 40 of 69 pitches.
His secondary stuff was sharper. He used his curveball and changeup to help rack up four strikeouts.
And with an uptick in velocity that included a couple of pitches over 100 mph, Giants hitters looked helpless, failing to record a hit against him in five innings while managing only a handful of balls that were hard hit.
“I threw strikes, plain and simple,” May said, before deadpanning: “It’s a weird concept. You throw strikes, you get outs.”
That the 25-year-old did, facing the minimum number of batters after erasing his only blemish, a one-out walk in the second inning, with a double play in the next at-bat.
The only reason May — who said he didn’t even realize he had a no-hitter going when he was taken out of the game — didn’t get to keep going? He had dealt with some arm soreness after his previous start, according to manager Dave Roberts, prompting the team to push back his outing a few days and limit his pitch count. (May had thrown at least 80 pitches in each of his previous three starts.)
Reliever Alex Vesia gave up an infield single to Luis González on a slow roller to second with two outs in the sixth, ending the Dodgers’ ninth no-hit bid this year to go beyond five innings.
The bullpen, though, still blanked the Giants for the rest of the night to record the team’s 14th shutout of the season.
With the Dodgers holding an early four-run lead after knocking around Giants right-hander Logan Webb — including a three-run rally in the fourth that Roberts called “one of the best offensive innings we’ve had” — the manager considered keeping May in for another inning.
Ultimately, however, “getting him out of the game, feeling good, is the win,” Roberts said. “Considering how he threw the baseball the last couple times, building off tonight and [knowing he’s] going on regular rest his next turn, it was the smart decision.”
Indeed, May’s performance Friday was a much-needed reversal for a pitcher who had been trending in the wrong direction the last few weeks.
After giving up just two runs (one earned) in his first two starts back, both against the Miami Marlins, May looked shakier in his last two outings against the San Diego Padres.
In 10 total innings, he gave up 10 runs (nine earned) while walking as many batters as he struck out (eight each).
His control was all over the place. Defensive mistakes at times seemed to contribute to mounting frustration. And a pitcher the Dodgers had been counting on to contribute in the postseason seemed far from peak October form.
“A guy that’s coming off Tommy John, the last thing to come is the feel, the command,” Roberts said before the game. “This is a good test for him.”
He passed with flying colors, flashing the type of dominance the Dodgers will need from him when the postseason begins.
“It’s huge,” May said. “If I can throw strikes, I’m gonna get outs quick, get in and get out.”
Added Roberts: “He’s starting to find his way.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.