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4 Cincinnati Reds There's not much hope until boppers like Adam Dunn start to hit for average

April 05, 2004
April 05, 2004

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April 5, 2004

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4 Cincinnati Reds There's not much hope until boppers like Adam Dunn start to hit for average

Wherever he went, the voices followed. In the batting cage, in
the dugout, in the batter's box, the relentless yapping of the
Reds' coaches echoed in Adam Dunn's head. "I'm standing at the
plate thinking, Where are my hands? Where's this, where's that?"
recalls Dunn, the slugging leftfielder whose dreadful batting
average and high strikeout rate make him the poster boy for
Cincinnati's homer-happy lineup. "Before I know it, the pitch is
there and I'm completely out of rhythm."

This is an article from the April 5, 2004 issue

The 6'6", 240-pound Dunn, an All-Star in 2002, can't say exactly
when he began to lose his bearings, though his decline as an
effective hitter has been swift. His batting average over the
past three seasons has plummeted from .262 to .249 to .215. Two
years ago he struck out a team-record 170 times; last season,
when he missed 42 games with a left thumb injury, he whiffed 126
times in 116 games. The 24-year-old Dunn has always had power--he
belted 19 home runs in his first 66 games in the majors, then hit
26 and 27 the past two seasons--but his potential has yet to be
fully tapped in Cincinnati, where he has played under the
heavy-handed instruction of six hitting coaches and manager Bob
Boone. "In the batting cage you'd see four different guys
standing around [Dunn] giving their opinions," says rightfielder
Austin Kearns. "Everyone had a different one."

Dave Miley, who took over for the fired Boone last July, prides
himself on letting his coaches work more directly with the
players--in contrast to Boone, whom some Reds found overly
meddlesome. "With regards to hitting instruction," says new
hitting coach Chris Chambliss, "all communication comes through
me." Chambliss, the former Yankees first baseman who was New
York's hitting coach on four world championship teams from 1996
through 2000, was hired in December and spent the off-season at
home in West New York, N.J., watching tapes of hundreds of swings
by Cincinnati hitters. He quickly discerned a disturbing trend:
Too many players were trying to pull the ball too often. The Reds
proved last year that they had pop (they ranked sixth in the NL
in homers) but little else. Seemingly entranced by the
dinger-friendly wind patterns of Great American Ball Park (the
ball leaps out in straightaway left and right), Cincinnati batted
a putrid .245 and whiffed an NL-leading 1,326 times, setting a
club record for strikeouts in a season for the third straight
year.

This spring Chambliss had one clear message for Dunn & Co.:
Shorten your swings and use the entire field. Chambliss had
hitters start the day with a 15-minute game of pepper to sharpen
their bat control. (Last year Dunn went 43 consecutive games
without driving in a runner other than himself.) The training
routine for Dunn, among others, featured the one-handed short-bat
swinging drills used to teach hitters a more compact stroke. Last
season the lefthanded-hitting Dunn drove only one of his 17 home
runs at Great American to the opposite field. Chambliss believes
that if Dunn develops an opposite-field swing, it will keep him
from getting rolled over on outside pitches and allow him to put
the ball in play more often.

Dunn agrees. "People assume I can't hit for average," says Dunn,
who batted .304 in 1,208 minor league at bats. "I've hit for
average all my life, until I got up here. It's not because I
can't. It's because people have tried to get me to hit more
homers. I'll hit even more home runs when I'm hitting the way I
can."

Improvement from Dunn is imperative: The offense will have to
shoulder the load for a team that's suspect in every other area.
Last season Boone and Miley used 29 pitchers--17 of them
starters--who combined for the second-worst ERA in the NL.
Cincinnati's major off-season addition to the ragtag staff was
righthander Corey Lidle, who had a 5.75 ERA in 31 starts with the
Blue Jays. The Reds' fielding was just as ugly, as they allowed
68 unearned runs, fourth most in the league. "We've got our work
cut out for ourselves in a lot of areas, but it's obvious that
this offense, if healthy, can score lots of runs," says Miley,
who's counting on productive seasons from Kearns and
centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr., who reported to spring in good
health after being injured for much of last season. "Still, if
our hitting fails, we're in trouble." --A.C.

COLOR PHOTO: AL BEHRMAN/AP RUN AND DUNN A feast-or-famine hitter, Dunn must cut down his stroke if he hopes to raise his OBP from .354 in 2003.COLOR PHOTO: JED JACOBSOHN/GETTY IMAGES KEARNS

IN FACT

Cory Lidle and Tigers 21-game loser Mike Maroth tied for the most
earned runs allowed last season (123).

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Reds

"Their hopes will rise and fall on their pitching, and I think a
fall is more likely. There are no classic power arms on this
staff--heck, in the whole organization. The starters are all the
same: bottom-of-the-rotation castoffs who throw 88 to 90....
Danny Graves is back in the closer's role, where he belongs, but
how many games will he get a chance to save? He's certainly a
candidate to be dealt to a contender. Another guy who could be
traded is Sean Casey. He maximizes his ability but doesn't give
you the power you like to see at first.... This year we'll see if
Adam Dunn is a really good major league player or Rob Deer....
They've offered Ken Griffey Jr. all over, and they're willing to
eat some of his contract, but who's willing to take the risk? ...
Austin Kearns is their best player right now. He has a good eye
and good power. Another one of their phenoms, Brandon Larson, was
very poor last season, but he should be better.... As bleak as it
is with the big club, the Reds don't have any guys in the minors
who can rescue them."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2003 statistics

BATTING ORDER

2B Jimenez
SS Larkin
CF Griffey
RF Kearns
1B Casey
LF Dunn
3B Larson
C LaRue

ADAM DUNN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 95 .215 27 57 8

KEN GRIFFEY JR.

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 99 .247 13 26 1

AUSTIN KEARNS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 59 .264 15 58 5

BRANDON LARSON

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 262 .101 1 9 2

BARRY LARKIN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 274 .282 2 18 2

D'ANGELO JIMENEZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 151 .273 14 57 11

SEAN CASEY

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 159 .291 14 80 4

JASON LARUE

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 189 .230 16 50 3

BENCH

RYAN FREEL

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 256 .285 4 12 9

WILY MO PENA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 317 .218 5 16 3

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Cory Lidle 146 12 15 6.2 1.43 5.75
New acquisition
RH Paul Wilson 155 8 10 6.0 1.44 4.64
RH Jimmy Haynes 211 2 12 5.2 1.86 6.30
RH Jose Acevedo 180 2 1 6.5 0.85 2.67
RH Aaron Harang 202 5 6 4.8 1.41 5.31

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Danny Graves 115 4 15 2 1.45 5.33
RH Ryan Wagner 143 2 1 0 1.15 1.66
RH John Riedling 246 2 3 1 1.52 4.90

New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 142)

2003 RECORD
69-93
fifth in NL Central

MANAGER
Dave Miley
second season with Cincinnati