Dunn a perfect fit for White Sox ... but at DH?
GLENDALE -- Two days into full-squad workouts, the infighting already has started in the Chicago White Sox clubhouse.
On Wednesday morning, Jake Peavy ripped newly signed slugger Adam Dunn for a truly heinous offense: wearing a University of Texas undershirt rather than the team-issued gear.
“If you didn’t know any better, you’d think he played for the Texas Longhorns instead of the White Sox,” a grinning Peavy said, loud enough for Dunn to hear one locker away. “He’s got Texas all over his shoes, his undershirts, his hats. I don’t get it.”
Dunn paused for a moment. He sized up his adversary. Then he mounted a counterattack. He mocked Peavy for having his jersey number (44) emblazoned on his Nike spikes. He questioned whether Peavy is a true University of Alabama fan, or if the righty merely roots for whichever team is convenient.
Dunn made certain to fire the final shot -- quite literally. He used his massive paws to crinkle an empty water bottle, building up pressure near the top. When Peavy wasn’t looking, Dunn flicked off the cap, propelling it in Peavy’s general direction. POP!
I can’t speak for Peavy, but it scared the hell out of me. The top rattled around Peavy’s locker. The big guy laughed.
“A little redneck trick,” Dunn said with a smile.
For those wondering if Chicago’s $56 million slugger would blend nicely with the free-wheeling, mischievous White Sox clubhouse, there’s your answer. He’s perfect.
Now comes the hard part. Dunn must learn to excel in a job he’s never had before: designated hitter.
“I knew he’d be good,” said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, one caretaker of the team’s iconoclastic identity. “I’ve known him for a long time through (Ken) Griffey. I’ve always heard good things about him. He’s been awesome. He’s going to fit in great here.”
Most importantly, Dunn should be a great fit in the lineup. When the White Sox made their most recent postseason appearance in 2008, they led the majors with 235 home runs. The numbers were more ordinary in the past two seasons: 184 in 2009, 177 last year.
Dunn almost singlehandedly could transform the South Siders into the American League’s foremost slugging outfit once again. He averaged 40 home runs from 2004 through 2010.
“The biggest thing is we needed some left-handed protection,” Peavy said. “When you run into a tough right-handed starter, you need somebody to balance all the righties we have. … A lot of people talk about him striking out, but Adam gets on base. Adam draws walks. Adam strikes fear into opposing pitchers -- especially in our ballpark.”
Said Pierzynski: “We were one bat short last year. He’s that guy.”
White Sox general manager Kenny Williams recognized a need for left-handed power and brought in the biggest home-run threat on the free agent market. It’s hard to argue with that. But a separate question may determine the team’s success or failure this year.
How comfortable will Adam Dunn be as a designated hitter?
Until now, the 31-year-old has spent his entire career in the National League. He has only 77 plate appearances as a DH. Ideally, he would be an everyday player with a defensive position. But he wanted to sign with the White Sox. He understands that Paul Konerko, a franchise icon, is the incumbent at first base.
So Dunn realizes that he must prepare for a job that requires 10 or 15 minutes of on-field, in-game performance during a 24-hour day. For someone who acknowledges that he has trouble sitting still, the role could be more difficult than it sounds.
“That’s going to be the toughest adjustment for me,” Dunn said Wednesday. “I know that. Luckily, I have spring training to figure that out. I’ve tried to talk with everybody who I thought might have DH’ed a game -- Frank Thomas, Harold Baines, Paulie (Konerko) -- and see what they do. I have no idea. I can’t sit on the bench, dude. Can’t do it. Ain’t happening.”
Dunn said he’s been advised to develop a routine and stick with it. He’s open to suggestions. How about walking up and down the clubhouse stairs in between at-bats to simulate jogging on and off the field?
He wasn’t wild about that idea.
“See, I like watching the game,” he explained. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, man. I like being in the dugout with the dudes. But I also like to get hits, get on base and help the team win. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have to find the happy medium somewhere.”
We know this: Dunn will bat third or fourth. Manager Ozzie Guillen said so on Wednesday. If Guillen wants to split up his right-handed hitters, the cleanup spot looks ideal for Dunn, with Konerko batting fifth. But the issue could become delicate since both Dunn and Konerko have successful track records as No. 4 hitters.
It shouldn’t make a huge difference to Dunn either way. He’s managed to put up monster numbers while hitting in far less formidable lineups. On some teams, he batted cleanup because he was the only logical choice. He’s on a better, deeper club now -- by choice.
“The best thing for Dunner is that he’s going to a team that can win,” said Sean Casey, an MLB Network analyst who played with Dunn in Cincinnati. “He’s finally on a team with a legit pitching staff and a legit lineup. They’re going to love him in Chicago. That ballpark isn’t going to be able to hold him. He’s going to hit pop-ups that fly out of there.
“He’s matured a lot as a player over the last couple years. He’s a game-changer. And he’s right in his prime.”
Still, it’s not too early for Dunn to think about what he wants to accomplish before retirement. He has yet to play in a postseason game. That’s definitely on the list.
“Would I rather play the field? Absolutely. But winning takes (precedent) over everything,” Dunn said. “That’s what I want. That’s why this team was No. 1 on my list. I obviously love this city, but winning is what I want to do.
“This could be my last chance to do that. I’m not saying it is. It is my best chance so far. I’m hoping I don’t screw that up.”