Where will new Reds pitcher Justin Dunn fit when he returns from injury?

Justin Dunn at Cincinnati Reds Photo Day.
Justin Dunn at Cincinnati Reds Photo Day. / Sam Wasson/GettyImages

The Cincinnati Reds made the trade with the Seattle Mariners, so they claim, knowing that Justin Dunn would be sidelined with a shoulder injury. While the specifics of the injury have not yet been revealed, Reds manager David Bell has said that the injury will keep Dunn out for a couple of months.

This is obviously not the type of thing Reds Country wants to hear knowing that two of the team's most beloved players (Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez) were included in the deal that brought Dunn to Cincinnati.

But, given the way the Cincinnati Reds rotation appears to be coming together, the club can be patient with the 26-year-old. Despite starting the season with Luis Castillo and Mike Minor on the Injured List, the Reds starting rotation still looks very strong.

Where will Reds RHP Justin Dunn fit when he returns from the IL?

In all likelihood, Justin Dunn will be placed on the 60-day IL in the next few days. That will will clear a roster spot for one of the team's non-roster invitees and allow Dunn another two-plus months of rehab before making his Cincinnati Reds debut. But what role will Dunn occupy this season?

Given that he's returning from a shoulder injury, we're very likely to see Dunn on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Louisville before the right-hander is even close to making an appearance in the big leagues during the 2022 season.

Dunn has all three minor league options remaining, so the Reds could always decide to just keep the former New York Mets farm hand at Triple-A throughout the season. After all, he is recovering from injury and the 13.3% walk-rate that Dunn posted in 2021 is not desirable by any stretch of the imagination.

However, perhaps a move to the bullpen is in order for the former Boston College Eagle. In fact, Dunn was a reliever in college. During his career at BC, Dunn started just 15 of the 45 games he appeared in as a member of the Eagles baseball team. But once he was drafted, both the Mets and Mariners viewed Dunn as a backend starter.

The Reds should move Justin Dunn back to the bullpen.

When Justin Dunn made the switch from reliever to a full-time starter in 2018, the results were great. Dunn toed the rubber for 24 games split between High-A and Double-A and owned a 10.37 K/9 as well as a 27.1% strikeout-rate. The walk-rate was manageable at 9.0%, which is solid for a starting pitcher.

Dunn even showed terrific improvement the following year at Double-A Arkansas, as the right-handed hurler posted a 3.55 ERA in 25 starts. Dunn continued to strikeout opponents at a very nice clip and was able to minimize his free passes, as his walk-rate was lowered to just 7.1%.

That level of success, however, was unsustainable at the major league level. Without a minor league season to speak of in 2020, Dunn was thrust into action at the major league level. In 10 starts, Dunn appeared in 45.2 innings and posted just a 19.2% strikeout-rate and a horrific 15.7% walk-rate.

In 11 starts last season, Dunn got his strikeout numbers up a tad, but the walks were still haunting him. Dunn issued 29 free passes over 50.1 innings (13.3% walk-rate). That is something that cannot continue, especially if the Cincinnati Reds view Dunn as a starter.

I believe the Redlegs coaching staff will take a similar approach with Justin Dunn as we saw last season with Tony Santillan. As a starter, Santillan issued way too many walks, and not enough strikeouts. However, once he returned during the latter half of the season as a reliever, Santillan's K-BB% went from 12.2% to 23.1%.

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It'll take some time before Dunn takes the hill this season for the Cincinnati Reds. But given the amount of holes in the bullpen, it would seem like the prudent move for Dunn if the Reds coaches moved him from starter to reliever.