Sunday, June 8, 2003

Dunn will keep leadoff spot for now


Majors' HR leader likes the extra at-bats he gets

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

PHOTO GALLERY

Photos of Saturday's game
It seems a bit incongruous to see 6-foot-6, 240-pound Adam Dunn strolling to the plate as the Reds' leadoff hitter.

Dunn, who leads the major leagues with 20 home runs, seems better suited as a middle-of-the lineup run producer. Even he understands he's nowhere close to what a leadoff hitter is supposed to be.

"Your prototypical leadoff hitter is somebody who's going to get on base a lot, who's going to steal some bases and who's going to get bunt hits now and again," Dunn said. "But we don't have anybody like that on the whole team. I guess the person closest to that would be Barry (Larkin)."

What the Reds have is Dunn, the prototypical home run hitter who arrived at Great American Ball Park on Saturday with a .213 batting average, a .326 on-base percentage and 73 strikeouts, second-most in the National League. He's a giant of a player whose power makeup flies in the face of baseball tradition.

What they also have is a manager in Bob Boone who occasionally likes to take conventional baseball wisdom and turn it inside out.

That's why Dunn started his sixth straight game Saturday as the Reds' leadoff hitter and why he figures to continue to lead off, at least until Larkin comes off the disabled list and is deemed healthy enough to return to the lineup.

"I kind of like him in that spot," Boone said of Dunn. "If he starts swinging good like he did yesterday, I'll really like him."

Dunn hit a leadoff home run Friday and was 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored.

"The thing about Adam," Boone said, "is that he's struggling right now, but you know the big fly is coming any time. When you're down a couple of runs you know he's going to get up in that inning."

As if to underscore that belief the world's biggest leadoff hitter led off the third inning Saturday with a towering home run that hit off the fence at the top of the moon deck in right field with the Reds trailing Toronto 2-0.

Dunn, who likes his new role, started the day hitting .167 as a leadoff hitter with four walks. The Reds were 3-2 in those games.

"The good thing (about leading off)," Dunn said, "is that it seems like you're always fixing to hit. I like knowing that I have a chance to get an extra at-bat every game and maybe five or so a week."

But in Dunn's case, that approach usually consists of taking a few pitches and making the pitcher work. That's another part of a leadoff hitter's job description.

"The only puzzle about hitting first is that you walk up there first," Boone said. "When you're used to hitting deeper in the order, you sit and watch the (pitcher). Everybody watches the guy, what's he doing, where's the ball going. The first guy is sacrificial. You go up and bring back information. You want him to see some pitches."

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E-mail bkoch@enquirer.com




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ON THE AIR
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