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02/25/10 5:50 PM EST

Dunn trying to take next step at first base

Ex-outfielder getting used to position, working on footwork

VIERA, Fla. -- If they want to play winning baseball in 2010, the Nationals must improve their defense from a season ago, when they ranked 30th in the Major Leagues after committing 143 errors.

It's up to Adam Dunn to make sure he does his part with the glove. For the first time in his 10-year career, Dunn will start the season as the everyday first baseman.

An outfielder by trade, Dunn started 2009 as Washington's regular left fielder. He made five errors in 62 games, but that doesn't tell the whole story. He had problems judging fly balls and suffered with a below-average throwing arm.

Dunn was later switched to first base after the team traded Nick Johnson to the Marlins on July 31. The experiment was a mixed bag for Dunn.

While he caught balls thrown to him and scooped balls in the dirt, Dunn had serious problems going to his sides on ground balls and catching popups. For the season, Dunn played in 67 games at the position and made eight errors.

Dunn acknowledged that he needs to improve his footwork around the bag.

"The main thing about last year was getting used to being on that side of the field," said Dunn who has played 194 games at first base during his career. "Even when I played right field, it's just totally, totally different. That took about three weeks to feel normal at first base. I'm not going to sit there and say I'm going to be the best ever, but I'm not going to be the worst.

"Nick got traded, [and then] you're going to play first. I'd worked over there. ... You can work on it, but we had, what, 30 minutes to work on it a day? And then you're in the game. You didn't want to get the head spinning; I'm already thinking a mile a minute. [In Spring Training], you're going to get six weeks of nothing but first base and learn it. It'll be good."

Dunn has taken steps to improve his footwork around the bag. He took up Jiu-jitsu this offseason to help him with his flexibility and stamina. Since arriving at Spring Training more than a week ago, Dunn has been working hard with quality control coach Tim Foli and third-base coach Pat Listach on his footwork.

"I've taken a lot [of ground balls]. I don't know how many," Dunn said. "I don't even want to throw a number. It's just more learning, showing me how to get ready. I didn't even know what foot to take the first step with, to lead with, because I'm so used to being on the left side of the field. It's the opposite, you know?"

Dunn is a free agent after this season. While people see him as a future designated hitter in the American League, Dunn believes he will remain in the National League. Dunn and the Nationals are already talking about a contract extension.

"I've been hearing [about being a DH] since I was 24. I'm still in the National League somehow," Dunn said. "That's people's opinion. I really don't care what people think. If I wanted to play in the American League, I would have played in the American League. That's something I'm not interested in doing."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.