OAKLAND -– When a pitcher is drafted in the 32nd round, the challenge is apparent before his first professional hitter even digs in to face him.
Ryan Dull has felt the need to prove himself with each level he’s risen to in the A’s organization. His 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame might suggest that he’s just too small to retire hitters consistently.
His draft position –- the 979th player selected in 2012 –- certainly wasn’t going to guarantee him anything. His name can’t be found anywhere on MLB.com’s current list of the A’s top 30 prospects.
Dull’s story is one of changing minds and convincing doubters. So even as the A’s turned in an uninspiring 6-2 defeat to the Angels on Tuesday, Dull’s major league debut proved a highlight.
He turned in a scoreless top of the eighth, including a strikeout of his very first batter, C.J. Cron, on a slider that dove out of the strike zone. He allowed just Erick Aybar’s one-out single.
“It was exactly how I thought it would be,” said Dull, 25. “Go out there and get to experience what everybody as a kid dreams of.”
Major league rosters expanded to 40 on Tuesday. Dull was one of eight players promoted, and though manager Bob Melvin emphasized that the primary focus remains on winning games, there’s no doubt that the final month-plus of the season is audition time for some of the freshly promoted players.
Right-hander Cody Martin got his first major league start Tuesday. It hardly went as planned, as the rookie gave up five runs and exited in the fourth. Arnold Leon delivered two scoreless innings, as the only run scored with him in the game came on a double-play grounder (the run was charged to Martin). R.J. Alvarez, who cracked the Opening Day roster but spent much of the season at Triple-A, looked sharp with two strikeouts.
Given how mightily the A’s bullpen has struggled this season, there’s a chance for new faces to make an impression heading into the offseason. Manager Bob Melvin admitted before the game that he didn’t know a whole lot about Dull beyond his stats -– a combined 0.74 ERA between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville, 73 strikeouts and 16 walks in 61 innings.
He liked what he saw from the baby-faced right-hander.
“He looks like someone’s 12-year-old kid out there,” Melvin said. “He didn’t seem to be affected by any nerves. Used all his pitches -- low 90’s fastball with some movement, looked like some sliders to the righties and changeups to the lefties. And he knew where it was going.”
Dull said he viewed this, his third full professional season, as a crucial one leading into it. As a 2012 draft pick, he sensed it was time to make a major step forward.
The excitement and anticipation shot through him when he got the news Monday night that he was headed to the big leagues.
“It just shows that when you put your mind to something in the offseason, you can accomplish anything,” Dull said. “I just had a plan in the offseason of what I wanted to do, and tried to execute it best I could this season.”
The first outing was a success. Now he’ll try to continue impressing through the final four-and-a-half weeks.
“I feel like I’ve had to prove something at just about every level I’ve been, from high school all the way to here,” Dull said. “I’ve just tried to prove that size really doesn’t matter and just try to fight through everything.”