CHICAGO – As almost always is the case before a White Sox home game, a country song played in the clubhouse before players headed outside to take batting practice Monday.
This particular song had something to do with pickup trucks and kickin’ up dust. It may or may not have included tips on how to treat rust and kids who don’t eat crust.
Beneath the clubhouse speakers, Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn sat in a padded chair in front of his locker and discussed his mammoth, season-long slump. He seemed relaxed, not like someone who entered the day hitting .108 with approximately 41,000 strikeouts.
Dunn finished the day hitting .101 with approximately 41,001 strikeouts. The White Sox coughed up a lead in the eighth inning and lost, 3-2, to the Cleveland Indians to remain in last place in the AL Central with a 7-12 record.
“We can’t play any worse than what we’re playing now,” Dunn said in matter-of-fact fashion before the game. “Obviously, we’re getting good pitching. But other than that, terrible.”
Right about then, the ol’ country song skipped. Dunn kept talking.
A few seconds later, the song resumed. Dunn still was talking.
“I don’t know what our record is, I don’t know how far back we are or whatever, but the reassuring thing is it’s early,” Dunn said. “But we’re playing our worst baseball of the season, and if you’re going to play bad baseball, you might as well do it now.”
Dunn is leading the way.
The 6-foot-6, 285-pound Texan is playing some of the worst individual baseball we have seen in this town in a long time. That’s really saying something, considering the Triple-A team on the North Side and the occasionally mediocre team on the South Side.
Unfortunately, as Sox fans know, Dunn has staggered down this road before.
In 2011, Dunn flirted with the record books for his ineptitude at the plate. He hit .159 with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs, and he sat out the Sox's season finale to end up six plate appearances shy of qualifying for the worst single-season batting average in modern big-league history.
This season, Dunn is on pace to surpass the 502 plate appearances necessary to qualify for all-time futility. The low mark is .179, which was set by Rob Deer of the 1991 Detroit Tigers.
Dunn insists he feels fine at the plate, even if he makes everyone else feel squeamish.
“When I’m in the box I don’t feel like ‘Oh [crud], here goes nothing,’” Dunn said. “I feel good. I feel like I can still do some damage. In the past when I’ve been struggling, there’s some times where you’re just trying to get walked or get drilled or something.”
That’s good, I guess?
So much of baseball is mental, and it’s nice to hear that Dunn is not overwrought with fear with every passing out. But it also would be quite all right for Dunn to draw a few walks, because the main idea on offense is to avoid outs and get on base and score runs.
Clearly, Dunn would rather swing. He has drawn only three walks in 73 plate appearances.
When Dunn does swing, he has hit the ball into the dirt too often. He has tallied 18 groundouts, 16 fly outs and eight line-drive outs to go along with 27 strikeouts.
“A lot of it is pitch selection,” Dunn said. “For the most part this year, I feel like I’ve been pitched pretty tough. There hasn’t been a lot of pitches left up or left out over the plate.
“Then again, I have to be better to not chase those, and if it’s not a pitch that I can drive, then leave it alone. That’s something to consciously work on.”
Not even a month has passed in the season, which means that Dunn has plenty of time to heat up along with the weather. But with every disappointing retreat that he takes from home plate to the dugout, it’s tough to imagine a lasting turnaround.
Sox manager Robin Ventura heard about Dunn’s “it can’t get any worse than this” pep talk before the game. He politely disagreed based on his 17-plus years in the majors.
“I get what he is trying to say, but I've also seen worse,” Ventura said. “So any time you say it can't get worse, it can get worse.”
Go ahead and turn up that country song.