By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 5, 2010; 2:15 AM
PHOENIX - One of Adam Dunn's great strengths, right next to his knowledge of the strike zone, may be the inability to be bothered. He wears a ratty Texas Longhorns cap with suits, plays cards in the clubhouse and blows bubbles with his gum at first base. He refuses to worry. "My wife says the same thing," Dunn said. "She hates me for it sometimes."
In the Washington Nationals' 7-2 victory Wednesday night over the Arizona Diamondbacks, Dunn blasted two home runs and, with precisely one-third of the season remaining, took the National League lead in home runs with 28. In front of 15,670, the smallest crowd ever at Chase Field, Dunn again reminded the Nationals what they'll be missing if they are unable to sign him to the contract extension he desires.
His future unsettled, Dunn plays baseball like he does everything else. He will just make the most of the present. Dunn comes by this naturally - "I mean, I don't go home and work on it," Dunn said. He realizes big, important career decisions distract other people. He does not understand why.
"My mom, for instance, is the biggest worrywart in the world," Dunn said. "She worries about everything. I'm serious. Everything. You can't control any of it. I'm not going to stress out and lose sleep over something I can't control. It's good sometimes, and it's really bad sometimes."
On Wednesday, undeniably, it was good. Dunn's home runs - a two-run blast in the first and a solo shot in the fourth - traveled about 800 feet combined, both no-doubt-abouters to right field off Arizona starter Ian Kennedy. For good measure, Dunn added an RBI single through the shift in the seventh, his fourth RBI of the game.
While Dunn gave him ample cushion, Nationals starter Craig Stammen dodged the constant trouble he created for himself and allowed just one run over 51/3 innings. Michael Morse, in the lineup because Nyjer Morgan was a late scratch with a sore hip flexor, went 2 for 4 with a solo homer in the eighth, giving the Nats three home runs in a road game for the first time this year.
Stammen made them hold and Morse added to them, but Dunn's contributions won the game. First, he instantly gave the Nationals a lead. Next, he turned a two-run game into a potential blowout.
The Nationals may not have even come close to trading Dunn. Certainly, the Nationals on the field did not prepare for life without him. "I never scratched out a lineup on a napkin without him," Manager Jim Riggleman said. His performance Wednesday raised an uncomfortable question for his teammates: What would the final two months of this year been like without him?
"It would difficult," Stammen said. "The biggest thing, I think, would be in the clubhouse. He's such a resounding presence. He's not rah-rah, but he's a leader. We look up to him. We love having him on the team. Hopefully he'll be here for years to come."
In the first, after Ryan Zimmerman smoked a two-run double, Dunn worked a 3-1 count against Kennedy, whom neither Dunn nor any other National had previously faced. He fed Dunn a low, inside fastball and Dunn unleashed a vicious hack. The ball rocketed down the line to right. There was doubt it would land in the seats; the question was where.
Twisting his body, squinting at the ball, Dunn willed the fly to stay left of the foul pole. First base umpire Joe West ruled the blast a fair, a tough call because Dunn launched it over the foul pole, something Dunn said he's never done before. A few feet from strike two, Dunn instead had his 27th home run of the year, tying him with Joey Votto and Albert Pujols for the league lead.
In his next at-bat, Dunn passed them. Kennedy got ahead of him, 1-2, and tried to sneak another fastball inside. Or, Dunn thinks it was a fastball. "I don't know, dude," he said. "Pitches run together." Whatever it was, Dunn vaporized it, another obvious home run from the moment it left his bat. The Nationals led, 4-1.
Along with bundles of home runs and walks, Dunn's season has been rife with subplots. He became a full-time first baseman. He came to spring training hoping for an extension to avoid discussions about his future, and instead he became engulfed in them. The Nationals, still having not signed him, decided against trading at the non-waiver deadline. On Tuesday, the Nationals placed Dunn on revocable waivers, which is standard operating procedure but also does nothing to clarify his situation.
Through it all, Dunn has - again - been merely one of the most productive offensive players in the major leagues. "Maybe," Stammen said, "he doesn't watch SportsCenter."
Even before last night, Dunn ranked fifth in the NL with a .924 OPS. He is on pace for 42 home runs, which would be the second-highest total of his career and most since 2004. At 30 years old and 11th among active players in home runs, Dunn is as good as ever.
"He's a pro," Riggleman said. "He's at that point in his career where I'm sure it concerns him and his family, but yet when the umpire says, 'Play ball,' he's focused in."
Stammen allowed nine base runners in the first four innings, but, while throwing 80 pitches, he yielded just one run, a sacrifice fly by Justin Upton in the first inning. A pair of double plays by Miguel Montero, including a 1-6-3 twin killing Stammen started by stabbing a one-hopper back at him, helped bail him out.
While he kept putting men on base, Stammen also flashed his sharpest stuff. He struck out six, tying a career high, and made the Diamondbacks swing and miss 16 times. The Nationals will need to replace one of their starters when Stephen Strasburg re-enters the rotation, and Stammen is stating his case to stay. In four starts since the all-star break, Stammen is 2-1 with a 2.38 ERA.