Shifts irk White Sox’ Adam Dunn, but at least he’s comfy
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN firstname.lastname@example.org March 16, 2013 12:58AM
Updated: April 18, 2013 6:51AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Short of changing his entire approach at the plate, there isn’t much Adam Dunn can do to counter the defensive shifts he’s faced with on a daily basis.
By hitting coach Jeff Manto’s research and calculations, the shifts Dunn faces with the second baseman in short right field, the shortstop on the first-base side of second and the third baseman at short cost the left-handed slugger about 50 points off his average. Dunn batted .204 last year, 36 points below his career average.
That calculation may be on the high side, but Dunn, who gets exasperated when he’s thrown out from short right field or on a ball hit up the middle, won’t dispute it. There’s not much he can do about it when he gets pitched inside a lot.
‘‘It’s really hard to hit a pitch that’s running in to you to left field,’’ he said.
Manto doesn’t want the shift to get in Dunn’s head. When Lou Boudreau managed the Cleveland Indians, he employed the shift against left-handed slugger Ted Williams. In his book Player-Manager, Boudreau wrote that he used it more to toy with Williams.
‘‘I considered The Boudreau Shift a psychological, rather than a tactical victory,’’ he wrote.
Dunn has countered the shift somewhat by showing bunt, as he did Thursday against the Los Angeles Angels, but that’s just not him. He’ll do it if he’s leading off the ninth inning trailing by two or more runs, but he gets paid a lot of money for the runs he drives in and scores and because the 334 homers he has hit since 2004 are second only to Albert Pujols’ 361 in the majors.
‘‘There’s an honest effort to go over there,’’ Manto said. ‘‘He can go to left field, and does when he has to. But he’s looking for pitches that he can hit far and hard.’’
His average probably would go up if he cuts down on his strikeouts — he had a whopping 222 last season — and he thinks he can by being more aggressive early in counts. He’s also keeping his hands back farther this spring, an adjustment he feels comfortable with.
‘‘What’s funny is I’ve felt good [at the plate] all spring,’’ said Dunn, who usually waits for weeks to feel in sync. ‘‘I don’t know whether to be happy about it or not. It’s the first spring that I can remember where everything feels good. I feel . . . normal. I’m seeing the ball good and putting some good swings on balls. It’s weird.’’
In the Sox’ win against the Cubs on Friday, he walked twice and singled through the shift past second baseman Darwin Barney, raising his spring average to .172. He says the average doesn’t matter now because he feels ‘‘great’’ in the batter’s box.
‘‘I’ve been doing what I want,’’ he said. ‘‘Everything is going as planned. I’ve hit some balls good.’’
And if feeling good in the box translates into making better contact and hitting the ball harder, the shift won’t cut into his average as much. Manto says Dunn’s bat speed is as good as it’s always been.
‘‘He has not lost bat speed at all,’’ Manto said. ‘‘The bat is coming through the zone at the same speed. When he misses pitches, he just misses like he has in the past.
‘‘I definitely see him feeling comfortable. He’s having a lot of quality at-bats, way better than last spring, for sure. He’s putting a lot of work in the cages. He goes down there, doesn’t mess around. He’s business-like and gets quality work in.’’
The work in the cage included an experiment with backing away from the plate against left-handers ‘‘but that hasn’t worked out so good so I’ll probably abort that and get back to normal,’’ Dunn said.
‘‘But everything else feels great. I like where my hands are, I’m seeing the ball really good. I’m not used to that this early.’’