You know those bad dreams we all have from time to time, the one where someone evil is chasing or the one where college graduation never occurred because of sleeping through a class or two? Well, we all eventually wake up from those nightmares, breathe a sigh of relief or laugh at the absurdity and move on with our lives.
Now, try living those unwanted moments every day for almost four months, and you’ll have a greater understanding of Adam Dunn’s first season with the White Sox.
To Dunn’s credit, he has handled this most trying of situations with great class and dignity. No outbursts or hiding from the media. No sullen avoidances of his supportive teammates.
Dunn has been the same great clubhouse force everyone predicted when he agreed to a four-year, $56-million deal with the White Sox this past offseason. But nobody could have seen this disaster at the plate on the horizon.
Here’s the problem. This prolonged slump continues to cost the White Sox in games they simply can’t afford to lose. Take Monday’s 3-2 setback to the Yankees, as an example.
CC Sabathia struck out Dunn three times, raising his season’s strikeout total to 137. Dunn also slipped to 3-for-77 on the season against southpaws and just 21-for-159 in a home ballpark where it was thought he would flourish.
And with the game on the line in the sixth and the eighth, Dunn struck out both times and Sabathia knew he could get him. In the eighth, with none on, two outs and the Yankees clinging to a one-run lead, third baseman Eric Chavez came up to Sabathia and told him not to give in to Carlos Quentin because Dunn was on-deck, according to the Yankees ace.
“I mean, you know it’s there, and he’s just having a tough year,” said a respectful Sabathia of Dunn. “You don’t want to make mistakes, you don’t want to give in, you don’t want to get lazy and make a pitch that you’ll regret.
“He’s had a tough year. I know he hadn’t hit lefties really good this year, so like I said, I was just trying to make pitches and I ended up getting him in some tough spots.”
Quentin dropped a bloop single to center with two outs, but Dunn struck out on three pitches. As White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski pointed out, Sabathia aced Dunn with a 97 mph fastball, a 98 mph fastball and then an 84 mph slider. Even hitters going at their best have a tough time hitting one of the game’s top starters—especially through that sort of sequence.
With Paul Konerko out of action in this series opener due to a sore left knee/calf after being hit by an Andrew Miller fastball Sunday, Dunn had to face Sabathia. And with Alex Rios hitting fifth, struggling just as much as Dunn, there was no way in Ozzie Guillen’s estimation to drop Dunn from fourth in the order.
“What I have behind him is not better,” said Guillen in his pregame media chat. “Who, A.J.? When you look at A.J., he’s not hit good when we move him up, so we just leave him there where he is. (Gordon) Beckham struggles, (Brent) Morel is OK, but Morel is not a fifth hitter.
“Those guys are right where they are. They have to make it right. I think we set the lineup pretty well. Those guys gotta perform. They gotta do it for them.
“A lot of people say, ‘Well why you guys play this?’ Well, I want somebody else to send me the lineup,” Guillen said. “Send me the lineup, please, anybody, if I’m making the wrong lineup. No, I make the right lineup, we’re just not hitting. I’m going to play (Alejandro) De Aza against Sabathia and against (Jon) Lester? I think our lineup is good, it’s just not hitting.”
Support is there in full-force from Dunn’s teammates, as expressed by Gordon Beckham and Pierzynski following Monday’s loss. Pierzynski reiterated that they all hope Tuesday is the day Dunn takes off and hits 20 homers to carry this team over the final two months.
“I love Adam Dunn, on and off the field,” Pierzynski said. “Everyone’s been there. If you’ve ever played this game, you’ve struggled. This is not an easy game to play. It’s not something that you can go out there and say this or that and it works. It’s not football where you can get yelled and screamed it and it makes you play better.
“There’s only so much you can do. You’ve got to put the work in. He’s done that. He’s put the time in and he’s trying to make adjustments.”
Until those adjustments pay off in consistent offense, the boos will continue to cascade down upon Dunn’s broad shoulders at U.S. Cellular Field. Opposing pitchers will continue to target Dunn in potential game-changing situations, and the baseball nightmare will continue to be reality for the affable slugger.
“You just have to make sure that you’re going to make pitches, especially if you know that you’re going to not pitch around the guy, but not pitch in to him,” Sabathia said. “You better make sure that you make pitches to the guy you want to get out.”
“It’s not easy when people don’t seem like they are behind you, and I know it’s tough on him,” Beckham said. “Obviously he wants to do well, we want him to do well. I definitely wouldn’t be taking it like he’s been able to. He’s been upbeat the whole time but it still hasn’t come for him. There’s still time and I believe there’s still time. If he can just get going for us in any capacity, we have a good chance to win.”