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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Still whiffing, but Dunn is enjoying resurgence at the plate


If Adam Dunn continues at his current clip, he'll finish with 51 home runs and 119 RBI. (US Presswire)  
If Adam Dunn continues at his current clip, he'll finish with 51 home runs and 119 RBI. (US Presswire)  

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Magic elixir? Nope.

Trip to Lourdes over the winter? Nuh-uh.

Then what on earth has gotten into Adam Dunn in 2012?

"Nothing," says the man who, gulp, blew past his entire 2011 home run total in only 36 games this season, on May 14. "I just feel like, that's baseball. It just goes to show you how hard the game is. I'm not doing anything different.

"Crazy game."

Crazy doesn't even begin to crack the mystery of the iceberg that was Dunn in 2011.

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Last year, the guy was colder than a witch's broomstick in Antarctica.

This year, his home runs have been threatening to arc over the moon.

Forget, for a minute, team affiliations and rooting interest. From a simple human standpoint, what's going on with Dunn this season is as nice a story as there is in the game.

"When you're around him every day, and you see what he went through physically, emotionally and mentally ... you don't want to see any guy go through that," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski says. "Guys have bad weeks, bad days. But I've never seen anybody go through something like that."

Already, Dunn has 12 home runs and 28 RBI. Granted, early season paces rarely stay on track, but if he continues at this clip, he'll finish with 51 home runs and 119 RBI.

This after hitting .159 with 11 homers and 42 RBI in 122 games last summer while enduring enough boos, animosity and humiliation to fill several lifetimes.

"Everyone's been supportive," says Dunn, who signed a four-year, $56 million deal with the Sox as a free agent before the 2011 season. "It's a great fit here. That's why last year sucked so bad.

"That was really the tough part, for me. I let a lot of guys down that I didn't want to let down. And not only the guys in here.

"It is what it is, I guess."

He still does not have answers. The appendicitis that struck him during the first week of the season remains the smoking gun, as best as he can tell. He started last season 4 for 10, with a double and a home run. Felt great. Looked sharp.

Then he was sideswiped, knocked off balance, and never could regain it.

"Pretty much from early on in spring training, he's looked good," first baseman Paul Konerko says. "He's taking good swing. His at-bats have really been good, right from the get-go.

"He does strike out, but a lot of them are on six-, seven-, eight-pitch at-bats. He has good at-bats."

Dunn always is going to strike out, the way ducks take to the shores of Lake Michigan. He led the majors over three consecutive seasons, 2004-2006, and he leads the majors again now at 57.

But whiffing when you're on pace for 51 homers and 119 RBI is vastly different than doing so when you give off all the signs at the plate of being more clueless than an out-to-lunch detective.

He's hitting hard line drives the other way again. He's controlling his at-bats much better. He's better acclimated to DH duties (adjusting to that role surely played a part in his awful 2011, too). His confidence is back.

Konerko thinks, at 32, Dunn can be better than ever having survived what he has. Because in a down year, players are forced to step back, study, analyze, re-calibrate.

Dunn has no idea whether he can be better than ever.

"That's Paul," he says, grinning. "He's a thinker. I'm not.

"The good news is I feel like I've put up OK power numbers this year, but I haven't hit the hot streak that I'll normally hit yet."

What Dunn lacks in introspection he has in a friendly demeanor that belies his big (6-6, 285), intimidating presence. He took all of the abuse last summer without ever lashing out. He took full responsibility for his crash without ever inventing excuses.

He never became bitter.

"For the most part, [the fans] have been great the whole time," Dunn says. "I understood the reaction last year. It seemed like when the year was over, they threw it in the trash as well."

Out of the dumpster and back in the game, Dunn on May 14 became only the 12th player since 1921 to surpass his previous year's home run total (10 or more) in 36 games or fewer, according to STATS, LLC. And while he leads the majors in whiffs, he ranks second in the American League in walks.

And you bet Konerko speaks for every one of his teammates when he says, "Everybody likes watching Adam hit a home run. They've not just over the fence. They're bombs.."

Or as Dunn says in a feeling that's been a long time coming, "Every time I get to the plate now, I feel like I've got a chance to do something."


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