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Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn Shine Bright Amid the Gloom

"They give you a place to start," Dodgers batting coach Don Mattingly says of Adam Dunn (44) and Ryan Zimmerman.
"They give you a place to start," Dodgers batting coach Don Mattingly says of Adam Dunn (44) and Ryan Zimmerman. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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Zimmerman's emergence was anticipated. Dunn has snuck up.

Last winter, 29 teams had tepid interest in the free agent despite five straight 40-homer seasons, viewing him as a slacker who struck out 175 times and wasn't bright enough to change. In hindsight, the only thing wrong with Dunn is that the Nats didn't sign him for four years instead of two. With 38 homers, 103 RBI, a .276 average (the highest of his career), 111 walks and a career-best .960 OPS, Dunn is by every credible current measuring stick the fifth- or sixth-best NL offensive player this year, well behind Albert Pujols but right in the group with Prince Fielder, Hanley Ram?rez, Chase Utley, Ryan Braun, Adrian Gonzalez and Derrek Lee.

"Dunn was the most misunderstood player I have heard about in recent memory," Rizzo said. "The way he was misconstrued [in Cincinnati] was almost unbelievable. He plays banged up. He'd go out there 162 games if you'd let him. [Except Pujols] he's the most consistent player in the game the last six years.

"He's not a cheerleader. But if there is still such a thing as a leader by example in this game, he is it. He's a pillar in the clubhouse. He really wants to learn to be a good first baseman."

If Dunn actually becomes half-decent at first, instead of the left fielder the stat geeks live to mock, he'll undergo a reevaluation within the sport even greater than Zimmerman's jump.

"First base, that's going to take me a lot more time than I thought to get good," Dunn said. "But it's going to be fun. It's something I really look forward to."

For the rest of this homestand, fans may watch Dunn try for an exotic, but meaningful record: 40 homers in six straight seasons. He needs two more. Only Babe Ruth ever had seven straight. More interesting, Ruth is the only player with more than eight seasons of 40 homers (11). If Dunn gets No. 6, he may someday stand second only to Ruth. That would get noticed.

"The people who don't appreciate Dunn are people who look at the wrong numbers," Zimmerman said.

A player with a low on-base percentage and high strikeouts has a big problem. But a player with a high on-base percentage (eighth in MLB) and high strikeouts just has a methodology.

Dunn needs to see as many pitches as possible (fourth in MLB) to draw those 111 walks and find 38 pitches suitable for low earth orbit. But high pitch counts also equal strikeouts. The Dunn package is excellent but interconnected. You can't deconstruct it.

"I judge myself by RBI [fifth in the NL] and on-base percentage [sixth in the NL]," Dunn said. "The one thing you can't control is home runs. So I don't worry about them."

Few players have studied the game and themselves better than Dunn. He analyzes his swing "by feel," not mechanics.

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