In the top of the first inning at Whataburger Field on Sunday, Springfield Cardinals’ infielder Nick Dunn was in a tight spot, albeit a familiar one.
With Mike Antico at first base and one out, Dunn took a called strike and then fouled off the second offering from Corpus Christi righthander Jaime Melendez.
The baseball gods – and sabermetrics – rarely favor a batter down 0-2 in the count.
Dunn fouled off another pitch to stay alive and he worked the count full. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, he laced a double to center field to plate Antico and open the scoring in the Cardinals’ 3-2 win over the Hooks.
“I’ve always taken pride in my two-strike approach and trying to be consistent with that as I can,” Dunn said during the Cardinals’ last homestand.
“That’s been a big part of my game, not being afraid to hit with two strikes.”
Pardon the former Maryland Terrapin for his modesty; he’s not just calm deep in the hole – he thrives in it.
Dunn is slashing .357/.400/.500 with an 0-2 count this season and amazingly, he has more hits (10) than strikeouts (9) when the pitcher is ahead by two strikes.
Matt Koperniak – the next best Springfield hitter in that scenario – is slashing .179/.179/.308 with 15 K’s and Jordan Walker has three hits and 21 strikeouts with an 0-2 count.
“Sometimes earlier in the count I can take pitches that are more borderline and try to wait for my pitch. If I get to two strikes, be able to battle and still put the ball in play hard,” Dunn said.
Dunn has 25 hits and seven for extra bases when behind in the count in 2022 – both are team highs. Now in his fourth professional season, the Cardinals’ fifth round pick in 2018 has spent a lifetime learning how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
“Since I’ve been little, I knew I was never going to be a huge power guy – so being able to hit the ball to all fields in any count has always been something I’ve tried to put a lot of work towards and take pride in,” he said.
But with the departures of Moisés Gómez to Memphis and Malcom Nuñez to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Springfield manager Jose Leger is slotting Dunn into the middle of the order.
“He’s always had the ability to make contact,” Leger said. “Right now, he’s limiting the chases and he’s making more hard contact. He (had) a good series in Northwest Arkansas where he hit a couple homers.”
“He’s swinging with more strength and he’s translating (it) to more doubles and homers. That’s something he’s added to his game – he’s been fun to watch the last couple of weeks.”
Dunn’s bat caught fire in June and has been hot ever since.
He hit for a .302 average with nine extra base hits and two homers in June; then the Sunbury, Pennsylvania native rattled off a 12-game hitting streak that included six multi-hit games and was highlighted by a 4-for-5 performance against Frisco on July 26.
“It’s very routine based – when things are going well for you, you have to stick to your routine and try the best you can to keep that going for as long as you can,” Dunn said.
Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505