Nats punch up lineup with Dunn

WASHINGTON -- Adam Dunn, all 6 feet, 6 inches and 275 pounds of him, stepped to the podium, took one look at the microphone he was supposed to use Thursday for his first official statement as a member of the Washington Nationals and scoffed.

"This is for midgets," Dunn said, then yanked the sound equipment higher.

Dunn is an outsized guy known for outsized swings -- at least 40 homers and 160 strikeouts each of the past five seasons -- and the expectations accompanying his arrival in the nation's capital with a $20 million, two-year deal are outsized, too.

"He just hits the ball over the trees," gushed general manager Jim Bowden, who drafted Dunn for the Cincinnati Reds in 1998 and signed him for the Nationals this week for $8 million in 2009 and $12 million in 2010.

It was Bowden who presented Dunn's wife with a large bouquet of red roses and their 2-year-old son with a miniature version of Dad's new No. 32 Nationals jersey.

"This could be the power hitter we've been missing in D.C. since my childhood hero, Frank Howard," team owner Mark Lerner said.

"More optimism, more excitement," was team president Stan Kasten's breathless contribution.

"Today is a historic day," intoned team spokesman John Dever as he introduced the proceedings live on the Nationals local TV affiliate.

"We took a very, very big step," said manager Manny Acta, generally one not given to hyperbole. "He is the guy that we wanted and we needed in the middle of our lineup."

No one quite came out and put it exactly this way, but the day's underlying theme was this: Dunn is not only supposed to add power to a team that ranked 15th in the NL in homers, but he's also supposed to make everyone else in the lineup better, be a good influence in the clubhouse, increase attendance, draw more TV viewers, and make fans forget that the Nationals failed in their pursuit of Mark Teixeira.

Or put another way: He's supposed to generally make everyone believe this is a franchise ready to right itself after going 59-102 last season.

"Hopefully help turn a professional franchise around and get it headed in the right direction," Dunn said.

Still, he was the most even-keeled guy at Nationals Park, going so far as to point out that third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who happens to be his pal, "is definitely the face of this franchise."

"I'm not here to sell tickets," Dunn said, "I'm here to win games."

It's not yet clear where exactly he will try to do that, because Dunn can play both first base (where Nick Johnson is returning from injury but will work out with pitchers and catchers Saturday, Acta said) and the outfield (where there is a glut of players, including Dunn's pal Austin Kearns, Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge and Josh Willingham).

Acta said it will depend on how things unfold during spring training, where Nationals players start reporting officially Saturday. Dunn said he would be comfortable at either position and made one thing clear: He is better defensively than some give him credit for.

Even Bowden cracked a joke about his new slugger's defense, saying: "When the ball's hit to left field, I go get a cup of coffee. I don't watch."

While waiting out a longer-than-expected free agency, Dunn ruled out some AL teams who wanted him to be a DH -- "I definitely wanted to play the field" -- and crossed off other clubs who were offering only one-year contracts.

"So that pretty much eliminated a lot of people," he said, noting that Zimmerman, Kearns, Acta and Bowden all did good selling jobs.

Dunn hit a combined .236 with 40 homers, 100 RBIs and 164 strikeouts last season with the Reds and Diamondbacks. No member of the 2008 Nationals hit more than 14 homers or drove in more than 61 runs.

The 29-year-old Dunn, a left-handed batter, has a .247 average with 278 homers and 672 RBIs over his career. He also has a career .381 on-base percentage and last year led the NL in walks with 122.

He's a patient hitter, that rare player who hits a lot of homers and draws a lot of walks.

"It's boring to watch. I watch video. I know. I fast-forward myself all the time," he said with a smile.

"I wish I was a lot more aggressive at the plate, but I gave up on that because I've tried that and it doesn't work. I just kind of go up there with a plan. And if I get the pitch, swing. And if not, see you at first."

Here he paused, then poked fun at his penchant for striking out by adding: "Or the dugout."