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Resilient players bounce back from tough years

Resilient players bounce back from tough years

Resilient players bounce back from tough years
Don't tell Adam Dunn or Stephen Strasburg that it's only been a month.

Sure, no team has played even one-fifth of its games, but for players like Dunn and Strasburg, this type of solid start has been a long time coming, albeit for very different reasons.

Dunn is coming off not just the worst season of his career, but one of the worst individual seasons for a hitter in Major League history. Strasburg has really only pitched one bad game in his Major League career, but then again he had only made 17 starts entering this season since being drafted first overall in 2009.

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A rocky first month had the potential to send Dunn into another year-long tailspin and any signs of elbow pain could have raised questions about Strasburg's ability to ever be a Major League ace. So while it's way too early to hand out any hardware, it might be worthwhile to take a look at which potential Comeback Player of the Year candidates have gotten off on the right foot.

After all, recent winners haven't wasted any time returning to their respective potentials in their award-winning seasons.

Last season, National League Comeback Player of the Year winner Lance Berkman was hitting .388 with 10 home runs entering play on May 8. His American League counterpart, Jacoby Ellsbury, entered the day with a 16-game hitting streak that ultimately ended at 19 games, during which he hit .376.

One year earlier, Twins starter Francisco Liriano was 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA on this date en route to winning the award. Braves starter Tim Hudson had turned in quality starts in five of his six outings on his way to capturing the award in the Senior Circuit.

So considering these first 25-plus games could be an indication of things to come, let's take a look at some of this year's early favorites.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Adam Dunn

What went wrong in 2011:
Just about everything. In the first year of his four-year, $56 million contract with the White Sox, Dunn hit just .159 and finished sixth on his own team in home runs with 11.

What's going right in '12:
He's found his power stroke. Dunn is still striking out a lot -- he has at least one in each of the team's 30 games -- but the White Sox were always willing to take the strikeouts, as long as the home runs came, too. The left-handed slugger has four homers this month -- he never had more than three in any month last season -- and is already just two shy of his 2011 total.

What's being said:
"Sometimes, when you become cautious, you try to do things you aren't normally used to doing. He was trying to be such a good hitter, trying to be the guy that hit .330 and still hit 40 homers, I just told him to be himself." -- Jeff Manto, White Sox hitting coach

Kendrys Morales

What went wrong in 2011:
By now, Morales' freak injury that caused him to miss nearly two full seasons has been well documented. The 28-year-old missed all last season while still recovering from a broken ankle suffered while celebrating a walk-off grand slam on May 29, 2010.

What's going right in '12:
He's healthy and hitting. After two surgeries and 22 months of rehab, Morales has returned and is hitting .318 with four doubles and two homers while playing in 24 of the Angels' 30 games.

Joe Mauer

What went wrong in 2011:
Injuries limited Mauer to 82 games and the Twins backstop hit just .287, marking the first time since 2005 that the three-time batting champ hit below .300.
What's going right in '12:
Though Mauer is hitting just .277 entering play Tuesday, he's played in 27 of the Twins' 28 games. Given Mauer's past hitting prowess and claim to be fully healthy, the numbers should come around if he's able to stay in the lineup.
What's being said:
"It's a good thing. We're not rehabbing injuries now. It's just maintenance and preparing for the next day. Every day I go up to him and ask how he's doing, and he says he's doing fine. So he's ready to go." -- Ron Gardenhire, Twins manager

Joe Nathan

What went wrong in 2011:
After missing the entire 2010 season following Tommy John surgery, Nathan lasted just two weeks in the Twins' closer role upon his return. Converting just three of his first five save opportunities, Nathan temporarily lost his job as the club's closer on April 18 and ended the year with a career-worst 4.84 ERA. What's going right in '12:
Nathan has converted seven of eight save chances and hasn't allowed an earned run in 10 of his 12 appearances. He's recorded 13 strikeouts and issued just one walk.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Buster Posey

What went wrong in 2011:
Posey's season ended after just 45 games when he tore three ligaments in his ankle and broke a bone in his lower left leg in a horrific home-plate collision with Scott Cousins.

What's going right in '12:
Posey is not only healthy, having already caught 18 games and started 24 total, but he's picked up right where he left off. Entering Tuesday, Posey is hitting .312 with four home runs and he's even stolen a base for good measure.

What's being said:
"To do what he's doing, I'm a little surprised, to be honest. I thought it would take a little longer for him to get his timing, but he looks very comfortable up there. He's shown no effects from what happened." -- Bruce Bochy, Giants manager

Jason Heyward

What went wrong in 2011:
His swing. After finishing second in the 2010 Rookie of the Year voting to Posey, Heyward regressed dramatically last season. His average dropped from .277 to a dismal .227 and he knocked in just 42 runs, 30 fewer than '10.

What's going right in '12:
He's not only getting on base, but he's making things happen once he does. Heyward is hitting .269 with four home runs and has already matched his total from all last season with nine stolen bases.

What's being said:
"What he's doing is what we all know [he can do]. It's awesome. He's finally healthy, and you've gotten to see the Jason of 2010 and the Jason that I've gotten to see since 2006." -- teammate Freddie Freeman

Johan Santana

What went wrong in 2011:
Santana missed the entire 2011 season while recovering from shoulder surgery.

What's going right in '12:
Santana has allowed either one run or no runs in four of his six starts. Even with his disastrous April 17 start against the Braves (four earned runs, 1 1/3 innings), he sports a 2.61 ERA and is averaging 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. That total would be his highest since he posted 10.4 K/9 on his way to winning the 2004 Cy Young Award.

Stephen Strasburg

What went wrong in 2011:
Nothing -- when he pitched. Strasburg, however, was limited to five September starts after missing the majority of the season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

What's going right in '12:
He's turned in quality starts in each of his six outings, allowing just seven combined runs for a 1.66 ERA. It should be interesting to see how the Nationals handle Strasburg's workload in the second half if this production keeps up and the team remains in playoff contention.

What's being said:
"He might be out of innings by the All-Star break if I let him go to what he is capable of going to. That's a cloud over me." -- Davey Johnson, Nationals manager

Jamie Moyer

What went wrong in 2011:
Moyer sat out the entire 2011 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

What's going right in '12:
The 49-year-old Moyer hasn't exactly been lights out, but he did enter the record books on April 17 as the oldest pitcher to record a win when he didn't allow an earned run over seven innings of work against the Padres. Taking into consideration both the extent of the injury he's coming back from and the age at which he's doing it, Moyer is likely to be a candidate at season's end if he makes enough starts.

What's being said:
"Amazing. Everything that he has done is unbelievable. I have a lot of respect for him, because of everything that he has done for the game, and even to come back after surgery is not easy to do. At his age, I'm very happy for him. It shows you when you put yourself into it, you can do a lot of good things." -- Santana

Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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