Push is on to stop pull-hitting Dunn
Defensive shift dares slugger to hit íem where they ainít
Sunday, May 28, 2006
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
JERRY S . MENDOZA ASSOCIATED PRESS
Reds slugger Adam Dunn is finding frustration when opponents align their players on the right side of the field to curtail his power.
CINCINNATI ó In the seconds Adam Dunn needed to walk from the on-deck circle to the batterís box Tuesday night in Great American Ball Park, the Milwaukee Brewers infield already had completed a minimarch of its own.
Brewers shortstop Bill Hall trotted to the right side of the second base bag. Third baseman Corey Koskie moved into the shortstop hole and second baseman Rickie Weeks took a position in short right field about halfway between Hall and first baseman Prince Fielder.
Such is life against the shift, a defensive setup that is part flesh-and-blood picket fence and part dare to left-handed power hitters such as Dunn. In essence, the Brewers were telling the Reds left fielder that they thought he would pull the ball to the right side of the infield. So go ahead and do it, they sneered, and see if someone doesnít catch it.
The strategy isnít new. But the frequency of how often Dunn is seeing it is.
"I know last year that clubs did it some," manager Jerry Narron said. "But I donít think weíve played anybody here this year that has not done it."
Dunn is keenly aware of when he noticed the change.
"Actually in spring training, the Pirates started to do it and I felt that it was a little weird," he said. "I just guess teams are going to pitch me inside a lot more and thatís where I have a tendency to hit the ball."
It makes perfect sense. Dunn has hit 97 home runs in the past two-plus seasons and is considered a dead pull hitter.
"In the big leagues, thereís a game plan for how to pitch each hitter in the league," Reds hitting coach Chris Chambliss said. "(A shift) is more of an indication of how theyíre going to pitch to you. It means theyíre either going to throw you a lot of inside stuff or off-speed stuff.
"As a hitter, you donít really want to change anything you do because it messes with your stroke. Your stroke is whatever it is."
Even so, a mental aspect to hitting exists and a trick defense adds more for Dunn to think about.
"Itís almost like theyíre inviting you to bunt," he said. "In certain situations, Iíll lay one down. But Iím not going to change my swing because of how the shift is. That doesnít really help us. I donít want to inside-out a pitch that I can hit really good. That kind of defeats the purpose."
Yet it is difficult not to see the wide-open spaces in left field. Ken Griffey Jr. understands. He remembers first facing shifts in his third or fourth season with the Seattle Mariners.
"I had to go through the same thing, the growing pains of understanding the shift," he said. "After a while, you learn if you hit a ball hard enough that theyíre not going to catch it."
Ultimately, he ignored the infielders.
"They canít stop a fly ball," Griffey said. "They canít stop a line drive. All theyíre trying to do is stop ground balls. Thatís all a shift is. Itís them trying to turn those hard-hit ground balls into outs."
And at times it works. Dunn has lost base hits this season to middle infielders playing 20 feet from where they normally do.
"That is frustrating when you hit it right where itís pitched and you donít get anything," Dunn said. "Itís right at the guy. Now, Iím kind of used to it. I just try to hit the ball over it or through it."
Dunn sees an irony in the situation. Before Cincinnati drafted him in 1998, he hit to all fields. The Reds saw a potential home run machine. Pull the ball, they said, and he changed his swing so that he could.
"When youíre 21 or 22 years old, I guess you donít really have a lot of choice," Dunn said. "If I was just coming up now, I know what I would do. But growing up and not playing a lot of baseball and getting thrown into the big leagues so early, thatís just the way it was."
Griffey believes Dunn eventually will ignore the shift and simply hit.
"He just hasnít clicked on hitting the line drives," he said. "You look at his home runs and theyíve been up high. Itís better to have elevated line drives because you get down on the ball and put more backspin on it. Thatís what weíre all waiting on. Heíll come around, get hot and carry the team for a while."