CHICAGO -- The numbers often associated with Adam Dunn come under the home run, RBI and strikeout columns.
Dunn himself, though, tends to look at a different column when judging what kind of season it has been, and this year, things have stacked up just fine.
The designated hitter/first baseman entered play Tuesday night with a .394 on-base percentage, well above his .367 career mark, and it has finally made him feel more like himself. Just don’t ask him how he got to this point.
"I said it from day one of spring: I’ve felt normal for the first time in a while," Dunn said Tuesday. "I don’t know why. I can’t put a finger on why. It’s just been everything, and early on, too. I didn’t have to use spring training to find it as much as in the past, just to kind of maintain it. It feels good to kind of feel normal and at least be able to do some things."
But it has been more about just getting on base. Dunn’s eight home runs pale in comparison to Jose Abreu’s 15, but many of them have come in the clutch. Dunn’s high-profile home run was the game-ending shot he hit against the New York Yankees in the previous series, but he has had others that tied the score or put the White Sox in the lead for good.
Simply watching Dunn take batting practice, it’s easy to see he's more comfortable swinging the bat this season. But he is also comfortable not swinging the bat as much, something that hasn’t always been the case during his disappointing tenure in a Chicago White Sox uniform.
In his first season on the South Side, Dunn was restricted by early-season appendectomy surgery. In the following two seasons, he seemed to be pressing to justify his big-money contract and be the home run hitter/run producer the White Sox needed.
This year, he is more comfortable simply letting at-bats play out to their completion. If that means a walk with a runner in scoring position, then so be it. He’s now comfortable knowing that if he doesn’t pick up the run, somebody is capable of doing it somewhere down in the order.
"Yeah, I think that has a lot to do with [better success] actually," Dunn said. "You know that there are eight guys in the lineup capable of doing the job. When you don’t have that, when you have guys that are struggling, you can be struggling yourself, but you put that much more pressure on yourself knowing that’s your job, that’s your position, that’s what you’re supposed to do is drive in runs. Obviously, it does help a lot when everybody is doing what they are doing."
Manager Robin Ventura could see the difference in the offseason almost immediately.
"This year, the way it started, it has just evolved over that," Ventura said. "You can rely on that this year that you couldn’t have relied on that last year. Everybody is staying within themselves just to play the game and do what they do best instead of trying to do things above and beyond to make up for it."
For Dunn, that means sitting back and taking the walks available to him, or driving a ball up the middle or to the opposite field when the pitch is on the outer half of the plate. And when the long ball is needed, he has been able to deliver that as well.
It might not be a big enough turnaround to make White Sox fans forget about the previous three seasons of disappointment, but for Dunn, it’s been a chance to finally show the kind of hitter he is capable of being.
"I care about getting on base," he said. "Obviously, hits are great -- pull the ball -- but in a lot of situations, it doesn’t matter how you get on. I can think of a few situations this year -- two outs, nothing going on -- I’ll draw a walk, and the next thing you know, somebody will hit a double, somebody will hit a homer. It happened again the other night. The more people you get up to the plate, obviously it’s better for that inning, but it’s better down the road and gets the pitcher out of the game as well."
It sure has been a long time coming for Dunn to finally be in his element again.
"I think, for the most part, I’ve done kind of what I’m doing for my whole life," Dunn said. "I just think that it’s been more consistent so far this year. I feel like I have been in a better position to hit, which not only allows me to get more hits but to lay off pitches that normally I would take or swing and miss at. I am able to at least foul them off and give myself another pitch."