Toiling for the woeful San Diego Padres, Adrian Gonzalez is a marked man.
With the National League West-leading Dodgers holding a one-run lead on the strength of James Loney’s solo homer to right field in the top of the 13th inning last Sunday afternoon at Petco Park, Manager Joe Torre elected to intentionally walk Gonzalez, the way opposing clubs used to hand free passes to the San Francisco Giants’ slugger Barry Bonds, the all-time home run king.
The strategy worked, as the Dodgers escaped with a 7-6 victory, while taking two of three from the fourth-place Padres.
Gonzalez is a six-year veteran but has to be pleading his case for another power-hitting teammate.
If Gonzalez can’t get decent pitches, or is intentionally walked, the Padres have to rely on singles, doubles and stolen bases, making the job of scoring runs so much more tricky.
San Diego Manager Bud Black has one legitimate home run threat, and that’s Gonzalez; the one-time first overall selection of the Florida Marlins in 2000 who then traded the first baseman to the Texas Rangers midway through the 2003 season.
Imagine how shoddy San Diego’s offense would be without Gonzalez’s team-best 24 homers, good for second in the league, and his 51 runs batted in.
Replicating his thinking, Torre intentionally walked Gonzalez in the 10th inning, loading the bases, and, again, the weak-hitting Padres failed to score.
Gonzalez has been intentionally walked 13 times, ranking second, and is second overall in walks. Gonzalez finished fourth in intentional walks in 2008.
For the second straight year, Gonzalez has been named to the All-Star team, and, coming into Sunday’s action, had a .570 slugging percentage, and a .408 on-base percentage.
Over the weekend, the left-handed hitting Gonzalez had three hits in 13 at-bats while driving in three runs.
Two of the runs were tallied on a booming double during Friday’s 6-3 setback, which also happened to be Manny Ramirez’s first game back after a 50-game drug suspension.
It’s been said that left-handed hitters have long and beautiful swings. Few can match the one Gonzalez perfected while playing youth baseball in San Diego, where he was born, and Tijuana, Mexico, where his parents are from. If there’s such a thing as a natural hitter, it’s Gonzalez.
In part, Gonzalez has been moved so much because it was believed he’d never find his power stroke.
In two abbreviated seasons with the Rangers, Gonzalez managed seven homers and 24 RBI’s but was limited to 206 plate appearances. This isn’t enough time to truly develop.
Perhaps Gonzalez was simply happy to return to his roots because he blossomed in 2006, his first season in the Southland, smacking 24 homers with 82 RBIs, and a .304 batting average.
The following year, Gonzalez drilled 30 homers, with 100 RBI’s and 101 runs scored, and then knocked out 36 homers, with 119 RBI’s and 103 runs tallied.
Defensive prowess is often overlooked but it would be hard to look past the slick-fielding Gonzalez, who has a .995 fielding percentage.
If there’s a knock against Gonzalez, it’s that he strikes out too much. If he fans 100 times this season, it’ll be his fourth consecutive. But he’s also working on his fourth campaign with a .500 or better slugging percentage.
Sometimes it’s hit or miss.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.