Chicago's Dunn surging, leaves 2011 in past
ST. LOUIS — Adam Dunn has forgotten about the free fall. It's a new year, he's quick to mention, and the memory of a lost first season in black and silver is best left in the past where it belongs.
Now the hulking Chicago White Sox designated hitter is a model of comfort and cool. Why not? He sat near a corner stall in the visitors clubhouse Wednesday at Busch Stadium loving life on the South Side. He was less than a day removed from smacking his 21st home run of the year, a 432-foot screamer to right field off St. Louis Cardinals reliever Marc Rzepczynski that made last season's personal slide seem more distant.
Consider: Dunn is batting .226, well above his career-low average of .159 from 2011. (Before, he was never worse than .215 in 2003 with the Cincinnati Reds.) He has an on-base percentage of .366, well above another career-low mark of .292 from last year. (Before, he was never worse than .454 in 2002 with the Reds.)
Before being scratched Wednesday because of a slightly sprained right ankle, prior to the Cardinals' 1-0 victory, he had started all four of the White Sox's road Interleague games this season in place of either outfielder Dayan Viciedo or infielder Paul Konerko. He drew more walks (six) than strikeouts (five) in the process.
"I think it's a normal year," Dunn said. "This is what I feel I've done for the past 10 years. Nothing is special. I just feel normal. This is what I expect. I don't feel any happier. Last year is over. This is what I expect to do. I feel like I should just go out and play and have fun."
Dunn is having plenty of fun now. No, a 66-hit, 42-RBI slog in 2011 wasn't what the 32-year-old Houston native — affectionately known as "Big Donkey" — had in mind when he inked a four-year, $56 million contract in December 2010 after two seasons with the Washington Nationals.
Sure, the blip was noted. It was too glaring to be completely wiped away. Since the spring, though, it has been buried in the dark crevices of the 2002 All-Star selection's mind — never to be given the light of day.
"When I picked up a bat this offseason, it felt normal," Dunn said. "It felt good. … I knew last year was over. There were a lot of factors (for the problems in 2011). I was ready to get this year started."
So was Chicago. The White Sox staggered to a 79-83 record in the mediocre American League Central last season and finished 16 games behind the division champion Detroit Tigers. Dunn was thought to add much-needed power to the middle of the lineup, but he labored at the plate after his appendix was removed in early April.
Dunn also coped with a mental adjustment in his most trying professional season. He moved to the American League after spending his first 10 campaigns in the National League. A report surfaced that he sought help from team psychologist Jeffrey Fishbein in late June — a time when the slow start became a trend — but Dunn denied the notion that he was searching to find his composure.
"He's confident," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said of Dunn. "He's not missing pitchers that he missed last year. He has had a better overall feeling, and that has translated into him hitting a bunch of home runs. … I think, last year, he walked into a new situation with a new team and a new clubhouse. I don't think he knew where he fit in. He got off to a slow start. He had never done that before, and he had some injuries with the appendix. He just never got right. This year he came in with a good attitude, and he has gone about it differently. He has been great."
And how will others who share a clubhouse with Dunn remember the year he wasn't great? They will recall it as an excused absence given his history, nothing more than an aberration.
"There was a little hiccup last year," Konerko said. "That's obviously behind him now. When you're in it playing in the big leagues 15 years give or take a year — which is probably what he'll play — there is probably going to be a bad year in there. There's going to be two bad years in there. It's not always going to be good. … When you find most guys who have played that many years, you're going to find a bad year or two. Last year was his."
The resurgence, though, has drawn attention from opposing dugouts as well. Like Dunn, Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran is on a tear. After Wednesday, the two veterans have combined for 40 home runs and 94 RBI. Neither has shown signs of slowing.
And like Dunn, Beltran has lived through a similar transition between leagues. In 2004, the Kansas City Royals traded him to the Houston Astros. (He hit .258 with 23 home runs and 53 RBI in 90 games with Houston that season.) Since, Beltran has spent time with the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants before signing as a free agent with St. Louis last December.
"I think as a player, when you change leagues, it's hard to get used to it," Beltran said. "But once you get used to it, your focus is to go out there and do what you need to do to help the team win. Last year was tough for him. That happens sometimes. But at the end of the day, he's doing better."
Yes, Dunn has stopped his fall. Sometimes, a short memory is best in the recovery.