Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Adam Dunn is caught looking at strike three for the third time in the game.
"I know I'll come out of it," he said that afternoon in Philadelphia. "That's the only thing I know for sure."
Three days later, the only thing that's changed is the length and breadth of Dunn's slump. After an 0-for-4, three-strikeout showing tonight in the Nationals' 4-0 loss to the Cubs, the big guy now has seven hits and 28 strikeouts in his last 58 at-bats. He's produced one RBI since August 7 (on a solo homer) and has seen his batting average plummet from .280 to .259.
All of a sudden, that career year is morphing into something more recognizable. And the man who will suffer most for it is Dunn himself, whose next contract is probably shrinking in total value every time he trudges from the plate to the dugout upon striking out.
Should the Nationals be concerned? Maybe. Though Dunn has always been the kind of slugger who goes through a couple of prolonged slumps every year, this one might be different. Despite his upbeat tone over the weekend, Dunn is starting to show signs of frustration.
After one particularly ragged round of batting practice this afternoon, Dunn heaved his bat nearly to third base. Stan Kasten, watching from about 75 feet away, immediately walked up to his cleanup hitter and said a few words.
Then, after the game, reporters entered the clubhouse looking for Dunn. Usually one of the last players to leave, he was already showered, dressed and gone.
A few minutes earlier, Jim Riggleman had approached Dunn and asked if he wanted to take a day off to clear his mind and rest his body. Dunn adamantly responded: No.
"I don't need a day off," Dunn told Riggleman. "I'm going to get there. I'm going to have a big day tomorrow."
Said Riggleman: "I think that speaks volumes for him and his confidence."
Who knows if Dunn realized the Cardinals will be sending Cy Young Award contender Chris Carpenter to the mound tomorrow night. If he did, then yes, his confidence really does remain sky-high.
Trouble is, the Nationals really need Dunn to be hitting these days. It would be one thing if Josh Willingham was still healthy and slugging the way he did during the season's first half, but he's not. Willingham is done for the year, leaving a gaping hole in the heart of the Nats' lineup.
With no protection behind him, Dunn is stuck in the mud. Which means the Nats' lineup is being held together right now by Ryan Zimmerman (hitting .333 with a .978 OPS his last 33 games) and Ian Desmond (hitting .363 with a .931 OPS his last 27 games).
Despite the gaudy numbers of those two young infielders, that's not enough to carry an entire lineup. The Nationals, quite simply, are not producing at the plate. They were shut out tonight for the third time in six games. They've lost four in a row, scoring a total of five runs in the process. And three of those runs came on Adam Kennedy's ninth-inning double last night.
That's not going to get it done, even when Jason Marquis puts together the best start of his season by leaps and bounds. The veteran right-hander, lambasted by fans and media alike each of the previous six times he toed the rubber in a Nats uniform, was downright dominant tonight against the Cubs. He departed with one out in the eighth having three singles and a double, with nothing but zeroes on the scoreboard.
And yet Marquis still suffered the loss and fell to 0-7 because Tyler Clippard allowed his inherited runner to score and the Nationals' lineup couldn't touch Ryan Dempster, Andrew Cashner or Carlos Marmol.
"Jay pitched a hell of a game, man," Clippard said. "It's frustrating."
Of course, the Nationals could have kept Marquis from suffering the loss — tonight or Friday in Philadelphia, when they lost 1-0 — had they put together even the slightest resemblance of offense.
Blame can be spread all over the place, but the spotlight shines brightest on Dunn.
"When a player goes through something like this, you feel for him," Riggleman said. "I don't care who you are. Regardless of what your numbers say ... it's painful to go through it for a week or 10-day period."
Actually, Jim, it's been 19 days now. And Dunn has given few signs he's about to snap out of it.