University of Tennesse ace and presumed #2 pick Chase Dollander made his 2023 season debut on the mound for the Vols yesterday against the Arizona Wildcats in the Desert Invitational. The game had been hyped for weeks and dozens of scouts were in attendance as well as MLB All Star Juan Soto and his fellow 2019 World Series Champion teammate Howie Kendrick. While it was more likely they were there to support former Washington Nationals bench coach Chip Hale, now Arizona manager, their presence only added to the hype of Dollander under the lights on MLB Network.
At first glance, it appeared that Dollander wasn’t up for the occasion. He only went 4.2 innings, gave up 2 earned runs on 3 hits while walking one and hitting a batter. He also took the loss as Tennessee fell to Arizona by a score of 3-2. His velocity was down and there were times where his normally dominant command faltered. First off, one start really doesn’t mean anything in terms of his long-term future as a Top 3 MLB Draft pick. But there are a couple of reasons to be impressed with Dollander’s performance.
Firstly, it’s clear that he isn’t completely stretched out, which is why his pitch velocity was a little down and why he only threw 81 pitches. It was clear that the plan was for him to continue to get stretched and throw 80 pitches. Secondly, when you dive deeper into the performance, you can still see the dominance just under the surface despite not being fully stretched out for the season yet.
Dollander’s fastball normally sits 96-97 and can touch 99. Only three of his roughly 40+ fastballs were 96 MPH or higher. Most of the time he sat at 93-94 with some hitting 95 MPH. That’s nothing to be concerned about unless those velocities remain that speed a month from now. And yes, Dollander lacked some sharpness in the first two innings as he only threw 13 of his 29 first inning pitches for strikes. He hung a slider in the second that was blasted over the left field fence.
But let’s focus on what Dollander did do well and there was quite a bit. He threw only 47 strikes and induced swings and misses on 14 of them and he got those swings and misses from 3 different pitches: seven whiffs on the fastball, five from the slider, and two from the changeup. A lot of pitchers rely on a single strikeout pitch but even on a night when Dollander wasn’t fully stretched out or sharp, he was able to get 4 strikeouts from the fastball and 3 from the slider.
Outside of the home run in the 2nd and a hard ground ball back up the middle in the 5th, Dollander induced a ton of weak contact on swings that didn’t miss or go foul. Earlier in the week, the man himself mentioned focus and improvement on mixing in a fourth pitch more. He threw his improved curveball five times against the Wildcats and they didn’t swing at any of them, though three of the five were clear strikes. They didn’t hang and could be another above average pitch in the highly-touted prospects back pocket, especially since hitters won’t be looking for.
Overall, Dollander’s pitch mix looked like this, at least according to myself: 41 fastballs (26 strikes, 7 swing and misses, 4 strikeouts, 1 soft hit given up); 24 sliders (12 strikes, 5 swing and misses, 3 strikeouts, 2 hard hits given up); 8 change-ups (6 strikes, 2 swing and misses, 0 strikeouts, 0 hits given up); and 5 curveballs (3 strikes, 0 swings, 0 strikeouts, 0 hits given up). There were 3 pitches that I felt I couldn’t accurate attribute to one of the previously listed (1 strike, 2 balls, with the strike being a lazy fly ball to left field for an out).
A lot of people would probably grade him with a C or a C+ at best, but I’m going to go a little further and give him a B- simply because I am going to factor in that he wasn’t fully streched and yet he was still overpowering for many hitters once he settled after the home run given up in the second inning. In fact, he retired 11 of the last 12 batters he faced after that solo shot, striking out 5 of those 12.
Chase Dollander’s next start should be back at home in Knoxville on Friday, February 24th against the Dayton Flyers at 4:30 PM and can be seen on SECN+ on WatchESPN.
Weekend Grade: B-