When Adam Dunn showed up to spring training last month, he pulled out all the stops to suppress expectations. He didn't offer details about his weight loss, and warned that even if he posted some great spring training stats, they wouldn't count toward any kind of redemption.
But guess what? Those encouraging numbers aren't a hypothetical right now. Over 19 plate appearances, he's hitting .308/.526/.846. He has two no-doubt homers, both off pitchers with no-doubt stuff -- Neftali Feliz and Jordan Walden.
Most importantly, he has struck out only once while drawing six walks.
That's the one stat I'd actually take with me. Last year, Dunn hit .224/.333/.448 during the spring, and that was after a lousy start. There was nothing wrong with that line, but he still struck out in 27 of 78 plate appearances. For a guy like Dunn, one strikeout in 19 trips is a pretty significant achievement at any point in the (pre)season.
The other stats, pretty as they may be, probably should be dismissed. But when I saw what Dunn told Dave Van Dyck on Thursday, I think I'm ready to put some stock in that 1.372 OPS after all. It's not just the numbers that are different -- Dunn's attitude stands in even starker contrast.
First of all, Dunn finally admitted that his premature comeback from his appendectomy utterly derailed his season.
"I was never the same," he said. "I came back too soon, and I couldn’t even bend like I should have (while batting). And it threw my swing way off."
This answer raises a whole new set of questions, like:
- Why wouldn't Dunn admit it last year, when nobody would have doubted him given the way his numbers plummeted after his return?
- How did the coaching and/or training staff not put a stop to it in April or early May?
The answers don't matter now, at least as long as they have been resolved internally. Perhaps Ozzie Guillen's exit solved the biggest problem, because he offered a piss-poor reason for putting Dunn back in the lineup when it happened ("II figured out I love Jerry Reinsdorf, and if this guy is sitting on the bench, he’s making a lot of money with no production").
Maybe Dunn thought he was too far removed from the surgery when he reached the point of no return, but as his .159 average (not .175 like Van Dyck wrote) tells us, the coverup is always worse than the crime.
What's interesting is that Dunn is talking about the appendectomy in frank terms now, after speaking around it vaguely just three weeks ago.
That's not the only drastic difference in his discourse:
"I feel so much better earlier than I did last year," he said. "Last spring, with about two weeks left, I started to feel good. This year, about a week or week and a half in, I (felt) like I could be ready (for the season) tomorrow."
During spring training and the first month of the 2011 season, our pal Brett drew attention to the way Dunn primed the public for a terrible start, even though the numbers suggested that Dunn was at his best in April. Perhaps his rare early stumbles in 2011 burned too brightly in his recent memory, or maybe he just wasn't comfortable with his swing. Or his condition. Or the league. Or the new role. Or all of the above, and more.
Whatever the case, he has suddenly stopped couching his statements. The appendectomy was a factor, and now it can't be blamed. The winter preparation is getting results, and he's ready to roll now. He's promising to win Comeback Player of the Year, and not through a Hawk Harrelson story, either.
Perhaps the taste of success for the first time in nearly a year is giving him an adrenaline boost, or maybe he's trying the power of positive thinking this time around. What I do know is that Dunn hasn't looked or sounded this good in a White Sox uniform since his introductory media conference.
Are you buying it?