GLENDALE, Ariz. | Adam Dunn was the American League Comeback Player of the Year last year, and while he appreciated the gesture he thinks his comeback fell short of his standards. And he knows the honor probably said more about how bad he was in 2011 than how good he was last season.
That dreadful year in which he batted .159 with 11 home runs was his motivation for last season. His motivation this year? The Sox' collapse in final two weeks of 2012.
Dunn still hasn't gotten over that the Sox were in first place for 117 games in the American League Central and had a three-game lead on the Detroit Tigers with 15 to play before going on a 2-10 nosedive. The Tigers won the division and went to the World Series.
It would have been the first playoff appearance of Dunn's 12-year career. Crushing blows like that don't heal easily, and Dunn hopes the Sox haven't gotten over it just yet.
"I don't think we have. I hope we haven't," Dunn said. "You work so hard during the offseason, during the season, putting yourself in a great position — and obviously we had some injuries — but we just didn't play well when it mattered. That's tough for me and I would assume it's tough for everybody in locker room."
While manager Robin Ventura urged his team to quickly get over the past and move on to the present, Dunn is having a hard time letting it go.
"I'm sure everybody's going to say 'start over with a clean slate' but I don't want to forget about last year," he said.
One of the injuries Dunn speaks of is his own right oblique strain which he hurried back from because the team was in a division race.
"Way too soon. Stupid," Dunn said. "But what are you going to do? I was going to get out there as quick as I could regardless and ended up costing myself more games, and when I came back I stunk. Looking back I would have taken the full week or two weeks off."
Dunn finished with 41 home runs and 96 RBI, more of what the Sox had in mind when they signed him to a four-year, $56 million contract before the 2011 season. Dunn had a horrific season, far and away his worst, with 42 RBIs in 2011. His .204 average and .333 on-base percentage (thanks to 105 walks) in 2012 are 36 and 37 points, respectively, below his career averages. So there is work to be done, improvements to be made. He struck out 222 times, one shy of Mark Reynolds record set in 2009. He might cut down on those if he cuts down on getting into two-strike counts.
"That's going to be an emphasis this spring, trying to be more aggressive, not get myself too deep into counts," Dunn said. "Instead of being so selective early — especially on the first pitch."
Ventura said he doesn't mind seeing Dunn's walks fall as long as the hits increase.
"That's the way I would like to see the equation," Ventura said. "You want him to be more aggressive. For a guy like him there is something about hitting earlier in the count instead of taking pitches that are close or just off. Athletically, he has the ability to expand the zone a little. We're not talking about expanding the zone and swinging and missing, you're talking about being a little more aggressive, going out of the zone and make contact."
Dunn faced 157 full counts last season and led the majors in pitches per plate appearance with 4.43. On 3-2 counts, he was 12-for-102 (.118) with 65 strikeouts and 55 walks.
Dunn knows how to hit and get on base. He has 406 career homers including 334 since 2004, the second most of any major leaguer since then. His 930 walks are the most of any player since 2004.
Those numbers are well and good, but Dunn says he'd trade them all to play in the postseason. The numbers in his craw are that 2-10 skid, in which he had an RBI in one of those games.
"I want to remember how it felt getting knocked out of first place because I know I didn't like it very much and I don't want it to happen again," Dunn said.