Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Adam Dunn watches strike three pass by in the ninth inning last night.
There were plenty of contributing factors in the Nationals' 7-6, 10-inning loss to the Braves, and there's no telling whether Dunn would have made a difference had he taken the bat off his shoulder at some point. But it is fair to question the slugger's penchant for being overly patient at the plate, something we've seen repeatedly over the last season-plus.
The critical at-bat for Dunn last night was his final one, which came with one out and no one on in the ninth inning of a tie game. Would his presence on base have been helpful? Sure. He would have represented the tie run, and had he drawn a walk, he could have been driven in by Ivan Rodriguez or Cristian Guzman.
But Dunn also could have won the game all by himself had he connected on any of the five fastballs Atlanta reliever Kris Medlen threw his way. Instead, he watched all five pitches whiz by, including two straight strikes to end the at-bat.
Dunn is being paid $12 million this season, most of anyone on the Nationals roster, to produce runs. Sometimes that can be via his lofty on-base percentage (which at the moment is .386). More often, though, he is being asked to produce runs by putting the ball in play. And at the moment, he's not doing that enough.
Dunn is tied for the NL lead with 22 walks this season. He also has 29 strikeouts. (And he's been hit by one pitch.) So that's 52 of 114 plate appearances in which Dunn has not put the ball in play.
Members of the Nats' coaching staff have discussed this with Dunn before, trying to encourage him to be a little less selective at the plate. But Dunn has taken this approach to hitting for nearly 10 big-league seasons now, and he worries a more aggressive approach could lead him to swing at bad pitches and make more outs.
What's the answer? Perhaps the issue is less about Dunn swinging at more pitches and more about him swinging at two-strike pitches. Work the count all you want and try to draw walks. But once you've got two strikes on you, expand the strike zone a but. If a pitch looks anywhere close, swing. Don't leave it up to the umpire to decide your fate.
Had Dunn merely tried that approach last night, the Nationals might have managed to eke out a slim victory.