So far, the weird approach is working.
Dunn led the NL in strikeouts each of the last three seasons, fanning nearly 200 times per year. He has worked with new hitting coach Brook Jacoby on putting the ball in play, and joked during spring training that he will remind everyone of Seattle’s slap-hitting Ichiro Suzuki.
No resemblance so far.
“We didn’t really change a lot,” Dunn said. “It’s more of a feel, kind of getting a feel for what I’m trying to do. I know that doesn’t make sense to some people. I felt good all spring, I felt good today, I hope I feel good for 161 more games.”
While Dunn got away from his all-or-nothing approach, right-hander Aaron Harang had his way with a Cubs lineup that got an offseason infusion of power. Harang allowed one unearned run in seven innings, the deepest a Reds starter has gone on opening day since Jose Rijo in 1993.
“I was out there ready to go,” Harang said. “Once I got that first strike, I started feeling pretty confident in myself.”
It was a glum day all around for the Cubs, who spent more than $300 million on players in the offseason and brought in Piniella to manage a retooled team that had finished last in the NL Central.
“We are going to get off to a fast start,” Piniella said. “Just because you lose the first game doesn’t mean … It’s just one ballgame.”
A few hours before the game, the Cubs were surprised by news that Tribune Co. plans to sell the team at the end of the season. Piniella held a team meeting and told his players not to let it distract them.
Instead, they were staggered by a power hitter determined to cut down on his strikeouts and a starting pitcher determined to make good on his second chance.
Dunn hit a two-run homer in the first inning off loser Carlos Zambrano, a line drive into the seats in right field. The next time up, Dunn hit the first pitch deep into the seats in right-center.
It was his second two-homer game on opening day—he also did it against the Mets in 2005—and gave him a club-record five homers in opening games.
“I’m not trying to, but I’m going to hit homers,” said Dunn, who has hit 40 in each of the last three years. “I don’t know how many. The big thing is to make contact.”
At that point, it was up to Harang, who wasn’t about to let the Cubs put up another sweet 16. In each of their last two season openers, the Cubs had piled up 16 runs. Last year, Harang had a big hand in it.
His pregame warmup was interrupted by President Bush’s visit to the clubhouse a year ago, and he didn’t feel right from the outset. Harang gave up five runs in the first inning of Chicago’s 16-7 win, the most runs a Cincinnati team gave up on opening day since 1877.
Eager to show that last year’s opener was a historic fluke, Harang took control from the first pitch—a fastball to Soriano for a called strike. He pitched out of the Cubs’ biggest threat, retiring Cesar Izturis on a popup with the bases loaded in the fourth.
By contrast, Zambrano had another first-game meltdown. Zambrano started those last two 16-run openers, but failed to go five innings in either one. He gave up five runs in five innings on Monday.
“Not at any time was I frustrated,” said Zambrano, who screamed and waved his arms as he came off the field after the fifth inning. “I made some mistakes early and paid. I was feeling great today. I wish I could feel all year long like I feel today.”
Zambrano is eligible to become a free agent after the World Series and had said he wouldn’t negotiate beyond opening day. On Sunday, his agent extended the deadline indefinitely, a sign the sides are nearing agreement on a five-year deal that would be worth about $80 million.
Pete Rose, who is honored by a special exhibit at the Reds’ Hall of Fame, watched from a seat behind home plate. Rose has attended several games in Cincinnati since his lifetime banishment for gambling in 1989. … Reds OF Josh Hamilton, making a comeback from cocaine addiction, got a standing ovation from the crowd of 42,720—second-largest in the ballpark’s five-year history—when he pinch-hit. … Ken Griffey Jr. went 2-for-3 and remained tied with Eddie Matthews, Willie Mays and Babe Ruth for second on the career opening-game home run list with seven. Frank Robinson hit eight. Griffey hasn’t homered on opening day since 1999, the year before he joined the Reds.