Washington Nationals' Adam Dunn not worried about slow start at the plate

Adam Dunn is off to a 2-for-18 start but he says he's not concerned. "The good thing is, I do feel good. So I know it's going to change," he said.
Adam Dunn is off to a 2-for-18 start but he says he's not concerned. "The good thing is, I do feel good. So I know it's going to change," he said. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)   |   Buy Photo

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By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

PHILADELPHIA -- History suggests not to worry about Adam Dunn. Look at his home run totals from the past six years -- 46, 40, 40, 40, 40, 38. Each of those seasons, his final on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) landed somewhere between .855 and .956. In an unpredictable sport, Dunn may be as close to a sure thing as exists.

Heck, the present suggests not to worry about him. He's walked 10 times in the Washington Nationals' first seven games, most in the majors after Monday, and he has a .448 on-base percentage. He has reached base every game. Dunn is not making many outs, which is the most important thing an offensive player can do.

You already know there is a "but" coming. Dunn has started the season 2 for 18, both hits singles. With the clean-up hitter cold, most of the Nationals have followed. Only three hitters -- Josh Willingham, Iván Rodríguez and Cristian Guzmán -- have batted better than .211 so far. The Nationals have hit .218 as a team and scored 3.71 runs per game, 25th in the majors.

The necessary disclaimer, for Dunn and the Nationals, is that one measly week of baseball stats is a sample size to be scoffed at, not studied. If Dunn goes 2 for 4 Wednesday, his average will jump 71 points.

Typical of his personality, Dunn has shown little concern about his slow start. His walks give him confidence that home runs, the other signature aspect of his game, will soon arrive.

"I'm just not putting the balls in play or getting hits on pitchers that I normally do," Dunn said. "The good thing is, I do feel good. So I know it's going to change."

Dunn's dearth of power actually extends to before opening day. In spring training, he went 10 for 48 with two doubles, seven walks and no home runs. Dunn saw no correlation between his spring production and his regular season start -- "Spring's over, dude," he said. "I don't put any stock into spring whatsoever."

Still, the March trouble may point to a mechanical piece of Dunn's swing in need of minor adjustment. Before Monday's game, hitting coach Rick Eckstein chatted with Dunn at his locker, pantomiming a few swings with an invisible bat. Dunn nodded intently.

"He's been working to get that comfort level back in the box," Eckstein said. "He's shown signs that he's gotten close. It's just trying to keep working until that comfort level gets there."

Dunn is not usually a slow-starting hitter. His career OPS in April is an even 1.000, higher than any other month. He has hit a home run once every 12 at-bats in April, tied with May for his best rate. In four of the past five years before this one, Dunn hit a home run in the first game.

But Dunn also has recovered from a slow start before. In 2008, his first seven games were similar to this year's first week. He went 3 for 21, all singles, with six walks. He didn't hit a home run until his 25th at-bat. But he still finished the season with an .898 OPS, 40 home runs and 100 RBI.

The best sign for Dunn is his bundle of walks. More than one-third of his plate appearances have ended with him tossing aside his bat and jogging to first. If he were swinging early in the count trying to get hits, Dunn said, it would be a sign he had abandoned his approach. That he has not sets him at ease.

"I would be panicking a little bit if I wasn't seeing the ball as good as I am," Dunn said. "I'm not worried about that part. That part will be there."

Said Eckstein: "If you're drawing a walk, it means that you're not swinging off the plate. So he is seeing the baseball. He says that he's close. It's just that one little last piece to the puzzle that will get him to that comfort level where when he gets the pitch that he likes, he does his damage."

After Monday's game, as a group of reporters walked away from his locker, Dunn stopped them. "I was wondering what took you guys so long to ask," Dunn said. "I'm kind of disappointed in you."

To ask what?

"Why do you [stink]?" Dunn said. He started laughing, not worried at all.

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