CHICAGO – Adam Dunn used the first week of his off-season to chill out and get a much needed break from the misery he endured in his first year with the Chicago White Sox.
Forgetting one of the worst seasons for a hitter in major league history, though, was impossible.
“It was a lot harder than I thought it would be,” Dunn said Saturday during the White Sox’s winter festival. “I thought I would just be able to go home and blow it off, forget about it, but I wasn’t able to do it, which was not exactly how I thought I would handle it. But at this point right now, it’s over. As soon as New Year’s Eve when I was in bed at 12:01 like everyone, that’s a new year.”
Although he fell six plate appearances short of qualifying for the lowest batting average in modern major league history, Dunn’s season was still a nightmare. He batted .159 over 496 plate appearances with just 11 homers and 42 RBIs while striking out a team-record 177 times.
All that after general manager Ken Williams and the White Sox gave him a four-year, US$56 million contract to be the power hitter and run producer he had been for most of his career in the National League.
“I thought it’d be a lot easier,” Dunn said of moving past his struggles. “I thought I’d be able to go through the off-season like ‘Whatever, it’s over,’ like I do everything else. I wasn’t quite able to do that because, for one, you couldn’t go anywhere without people like, ‘What happened? What’s wrong?’ Basically looking for me to make an excuse or something. I didn’t have one. Once the off-season went by . all I can say is it’s over and I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Dunn’s streak of seven straight seasons with at least 38 homers ended, and after the all-star break, he homered only twice and had eight RBIs. He also struggled mightily against left-handers, batting .064 (6 for 94) with one extra-base hit.
“That was as rough a year as you could see anybody go through. Adam’s awesome. He handled that about as good as I think anybody could handle it,” said teammate Jake Peavy, whose locker was close to Dunn’s at U.S. Cellular Field.
Dunn struggled in the DH role and in a new league. First-year White Sox manager Robin Ventura said he’s planning to give him time in the field at first base to spell Paul Konerko here and there or in the outfield, where Dunn has played more games than anywhere else during a career that began with the Reds in 2001. Dunn appeared in 35 games at first base last season.
“My experience comes from playing and I never felt the same every year coming to spring training,” Ventura said. “I’m not concerned. I’m looking more at how he’s thinking more than anything else. So I’m going to let him just play and we’ll figure it out.
“Not that we’re the same but I liked playing in the field and he’s done that in the past and it would be nice to get him in there to do that.”
In his White Sox debut in Cleveland on April 1 of last year, Dunn had a double, homer and four RBIs. Five days later he underwent an emergency appendectomy in Kansas City and missed the next six games.
“He never got it going. If I had to do one thing over, one singular thing over from last year, I would have sat him out a week longer, at least, after he had the surgery, and got him some at-bats in the minor leagues to get his stroke back,” Williams said.
“I take the responsibility for that”
Dunn has taken some light batting practice during the off-season — in some past off-seasons he’s avoided hitting — and said he’s worked himself into a shape where he’s ready for spring training next month.
The White Sox need his left-handed bat more than ever in a division where the Detroit Tigers won last year and now have added Prince Fielder to a potent lineup.
And of course the biggest question for the six-foot-eight Dunn, who was listed at 285 last year, is this: Can he get back to his old ways of being a power hitter and run producer? He’s 35 homers shy of 400 for his career.
“I don’t know. I don’t buy into the ‘You need to fail to.’ all that stuff,” Dunn said.
“Everybody says the Packers needed to lose a game before going into the playoffs. Why? You want to win them all. I want to be as good as I can for 20 years, however long I play. I’m going in this year feeling as good as I’ve felt in a long time and I’m ready to get started and quit talking about it. Doesn’t matter where I go, I’m talking about it. I realize that comes with (the territory). I really can’t wait for opening day.”
AP freelance writer Travis Miller contributed to this report.