- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 7, 2011

Baseball fate hasn’t been kind this season to former Nationals slugger Adam Dunn, who’s struggling through a horrific campaign of unprecedented ugliness. But at least the schedule-maker was kind enough to put Washington on the road for its interleague series against the White Sox in June, sparing Dunn the ignominy of dragging a .175 batting average into Nationals Park for his first visit since leaving.

That might go down as his lone stroke of good fortune this season.

On Monday, Dunn will be in Washington’s vicinity again - up the road for a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles - with his batting average scraping along at .163 through Saturday. He’s in danger of supplanting Rob Deer (.179 in 1991) for the lowest average by a qualifying hitter in the last century.

Well-liked and immensely popular during his two seasons in Washington, Dunn has become painful to watch as he adjusts to the American League and the DH role. It’s not that his lifetime batting average was ever high to begin with, just .250 entering this season. And he always has resided among the game’s most-frequent whiffers, leading the NL in strikeouts three times and currently leading the AL.

But it’s the dramatic power drain that’s made Dunn a shell of his self. The burly “Big Donkey,” who hit at least 38 homers each season from 2004-2007, has left the yard a measly 11 times with the White Sox. Having signed a four-year deal for $56 million, Dunn isn’t blowing away folks in the Windy City.

It makes you wonder what might’ve happened had Dunn accepted Washington’s too-little-too-late three-year offer. There’s no guarantee he would’ve stunk as badly with the Nats’ in his comfort zone, playing first base and facing familiar pitchers. He always questioned how he’d react to sitting during games except for at-bats, and the answer is frightful.

Dunn sparked a good debate among Nats fans and front-office types, who weighed his 40-homer, 100-RBI bat against his below-average, limited-range glove. The team opted for defense and signed slick-fielding first baseman Adam LaRoche, who averaged 26 homers and 89 RBI the past five years - roughly the major-league average for players at that position.

We’ll never know how Dunn would’ve fared and we’ll never know how the other Adam would’ve panned out. LaRoche was hampered by a shoulder injury and shut down after seven unproductive weeks, posting a .178 average with three homers and 15 RBI.

LaRoche was good-as-advertised defensively and helped the Nats’ all-around improvement in that area. Michael Morse has been surprisingly good as LaRoche’s replacement, and the move coincided with Morse’s offensive surge. (He has performed so well at first base it could be his permanent home after LaRoche’s contract expires next season, creating an opening in left field for Bryce Harper).

Dunn heads the class of last year’s free agents-gone-bad, but he’s not the only underachiever. Boston signed Carl Crawford for seven years and $142 million; his batting average and on-base percentage are each about 50 points lower than his career numbers. The Dodgers signed Juan Uribe for three years and $21 million; he’s on pace for career-lows in batting and slugging.

Washington signed Jayson Werth for seven years and … well, you get the picture.

Last week, after Dunn struck out three times against the New York Yankees, Chisox manager Ozzie Guillen told reporters he felt bad for him. “I want to cry,” Guillen said. “A lot of swings and misses. The kid has tried everything, just name it. Videos. Extra hitting. Left-handed pitching (during batting practice). It’s just not clicking for him right now.”

Guillen has played Dunn in the field about two dozen times, but it didn’t help much. Dunn intimated last month that he might retire if the game ceases to be fun, but he backed away a few days later, saying the competition continues to drive him.

Whenever he does quit, he’ll have accomplished a feat that few non-Yankees/non-Mets can match. Unfortunately, it only occurs when a player does something really, really terrific, or really, really terrible. No surprise, it’s the latter that recently landed Dunn on the front page of the New York Times. Not the front of the sports section, but the front-front.

Underneath stories on the debt ceiling and problems at the Federal Aviation Agency, there it was, with the sad headline: “As Chicago’s Designated Hero, Slugger Strikes Out.”

At least fans at Nationals Park don’t have to see Dunn in this wretched condition. But if any make the trip to see him in Baltimore, please give the guy a break.

He can use one.

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