Through highs and lows, Dunn remains calm
Struggles have not lessened slugger's presence on field, in clubhouse
CHICAGO -- It's not hard to find Adam Dunn.
At 6-foot-6, 285 pounds, he's difficult to miss.
But this story centers more on the spirit and heart of the White Sox designated hitter/first baseman and not his physical stature.
Since coming to the White Sox via a four-year, $56 million free-agent deal prior to the 2011 season, the man with 411 career homers, a .368 on-base percentage and a .497 slugging percentage has faced more on-field struggles in three seasons than he had in his previous 10 combined. Yet, even with the dismal 2011 numbers and the 12-for-84 start to the 2013 season, Dunn has not changed as a high-quality, outgoing person or as a valuable teammate.
He often can be seen joking or just talking with other players in the clubhouse or throwing the football around to get loose hours before batting practice. Dunn doesn't hide from the media after an 0-for-4 effort, just as he doesn't slam helmets or break bats during trying times.
"Yeah, it's something that's been instilled in me since I was probably in seventh grade. I used to be real emotional. I did," Dunn said. "My quarterback coach, he was my coach from seventh grade all the way up to senior year and, no matter what, he told me to act the same if you throw four touchdowns or four interceptions.
"I just, I don't know. It's good sometimes but it eats at me so much because I can't go throw my helmet down like the other guys and let the frustration out. Can't do it."
What Dunn can do is change any game with one swing of the bat. He also has the ability to single-handedly drive up the opposing hurler's pitch count by his patience at the plate.
In 2012, the 33-year-old tied A.J. Ellis for the Major League lead by seeing 4.43 pitches per at-bat. In this current campaign, Dunn ranks 16th in the American League at 4.22 pitches per at-bat.
A plan was in place for Dunn going into the season focused on being more aggressive early in the count, which added up to three walks in his first 18 games and just 11 times on base overall. Beginning with a three-walk showing on April 24 against the Indians, Dunn has reached base 11 times in his last five games.
The White Sox expect more success along the lines of this past week from the 2012 Comeback Player of the Year as voted on by his peers.
"Adam Dunn hasn't hit over 400 home runs on accident," said White Sox veteran reliever Matt Thornton. "He's got confidence in himself at all times. That's something that even when you struggle, if you have confidence in yourself, you aren't faking it in the clubhouse. You are frustrated, mad, disappointed that you are hurting the team. But you believe in yourself and you believe in your history."
"[Dunn] tried to do some things differently early in terms of his approach," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. "You've seen in the last week or so he has drifted back to what he had been doing for the bulk of his career previously when he had this success. We are still seeing the power. We are seeing more walks recently and that's fundamentally who he is."
Hahn still expects Dunn to "punish some fastballs early in the count." From Dunn's point of view, the approach hasn't changed as much as the balls he's hitting hard are falling more.
"My approach is day by day, depending on who is pitching. But for the most part, it has been the same," Dunn said. "Again, I go by feel. "Everybody is going to go a stretch of 20 games and not produce. It's going to happen.
"You know, it just so happens that mine started at the beginning of the year and as long as I feel good, I know everything is going to be fine. If things were out of whack and I don't feel good, then I would tell you we got some work to do. We obviously still have a lot of work to do, but I feel good."
Those who suggested Dunn move to the bench when his average dropped to .100 on April 24 shouldn't overlook the fact that the White Sox will have trouble winning without Dunn's contributions. As Hahn pointed out, struggling hitters in general might leave the lineup for a mental break for a day or two, but the big guys have to hit for the offense to produce.
Of course, this game is results-based and as good of a person as Dunn is, the White Sox are hoping for numbers commensurate with last year. He has the makeup, though, to shake off these early doldrums and get to said level, all the while being an important contributor off the field.
"Because of that demeanor, he's able to continue to be an asset in the clubhouse, even at times when he's struggling on the field," Hahn said.
"That's a guy that can battle, and he's so mentally strong," White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers said. "After the season he had a couple of years ago, it takes a lot of heart and pride to come back the next year, much less put together a really good year."
"There's a lot of guys in here that like to talk about a lot of things and I feel like I've been through a lot of things, not to give them advice, but just to kind of be there and listen," Dunn said. "You know that doesn't take any talent. That don't take anything."