Gonzalez Getting His Legs Under Him in Good Start at Columbus
Bob Toth | On 06, Apr 2019
The Cleveland Indians have a decision to make later this month on Carlos Gonzalez, who has an April 20 opt-out date in the minor league contract that he signed in March. The 33-year-old right fielder is making it an easy one for the Indians front office.
Gonzalez, an eleven-year Major League veteran with his best seasons in the rearview, did not sign with the Indians until March 19, when he agreed to a minor league deal that could pay him $2 million if in the Majors with another $1 million available in incentives, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.
Due to his late signing, Gonzalez did not appear in any Cactus League games with the Indians in Arizona this spring.
Gonzalez debuted on Thursday with the Columbus Clippers in his first game at the Triple-A level since a brief four-game rehab assignment with Colorado Springs back in 2014.
Hitting second in the lineup and drawing the starting nod in right field, Gonzalez contributed to the Clippers right away. He made a catch in the top of the first and in the bottom of the frame, he worked the count full after fouling off two strikes before singling to first. He was later forced at second on the front end of a double play. He retired another fly ball in the top of the third and worked a walk on his second plate appearance with the count full in the bottom of the inning (he was stranded at third as the potential tying run in the 3-2 game). After making his third putout of the game in the top of the fifth, he came to the plate again in the home half and was patient, taking the count to 3-1 before grounding to short.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Clippers put together a big rally with Gonzalez at the center of it. After Columbus drew three walks of its first four batters of the inning, Ryan Flaherty hit a two-run double to put the Clippers up, 4-3. Oscar Mercado singled home another run and Gonzalez followed with an RBI-double on the second pitch of his at bat, driving the ball the other way to left. He remained at second as another run scored on a grounder to short and he was stranded there, but the Clippers had a 7-3 lead. In his final at bat in the bottom of the seventh with the lead now 10-3, he struck out against former big leaguer Brandon Maurer on a called third strike.
The Clippers held on for a 10-4 win. For the day, Gonzalez was 2-for-4 with a single, a double, a walk, one RBI, and one strikeout while seeing 23 pitches in five trips.
Gonzalez was back in right field in game two of the season as los Veleros de Columbus battled Indianapolis in the Clippers’ first Copa de la Diversion game of the year. With Jason Kipnis in town to begin his rehab assignment, Gonzalez slid into the three-hole for manager Tony Mansolino. He grounded out to second on a 2-2 pitch in the first and hit a 2-1 single to right in the third with Columbus up, 3-2. He drew a two-out four-pitch walk in the fifth but did not advance past second. In a tied game in the seventh, Gonzalez fouled off several pitches before lining pitch six into center field for a base hit to put runners on the corners with one out. The next two batters struck out to leave the go-ahead run 90 feet away.
The Veleros tied the game in the bottom of the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Mark Mathias after a one-out double from Bobby Bradley and a single by Tim Federowicz. Gonzalez struck out in the bottom of the ninth on a 2-2 pitch off the plate.
The game went to extras and Gonzalez got one more at bat. He struck out to lead off the bottom of the eleventh on a similar pitch low and away as his previous at bat, but Yu Chang won the game with a liner to right field, scoring Mike Freeman (the runner placed on base in accordance with minor league extra inning rules) from second base with a head first dive into the plate, giving Columbus a 5-4 victory.
Gonzalez finished 2-for-5 with two singles, a walk, and two strikeouts while seeing 29 pitches in six total trips.
Through his first two games, Gonzalez has four hits in nine at bats (.444) with a .545 on-base percentage and .556 slugging mark with one RBI, two walks, and three strikeouts. The veteran is focused on trying to get into game shape while not trying to rush himself back too quickly.
“I think if you try to rush it, it’s never good when you do that,” Gonzalez shared with the media on Friday night. “For me, I’m trying to take my opportunities, to take my at bats here.
“It’s an adjustment. That’s the biggest thing that I’m focused on, just be out there on my feet, running around, playing good defense, and things like that.”
The Indians offense could use a big boost in the outfield, where the five men patrolling the grass have struggled mightily to start the season, helping a scuffling offense perform even more poorly.
Entering play on Saturday, just one Tribe outfielder was hitting .200, and that came from a late burst from Tyler Naquin, who is 4-for-20 on the year but has struck out in nine of his 20 plate appearances. Starting center fielder Leonys Martin has provided a .174/.296/.261 slash with four hits (two doubles) and four walks while striking out a team-leading ten times in 27 plate appearances. Youngster Jake Bauers, working as the starter in left, is hitting .167 with a .286 on-base percentage with just one double and two singles to his credit. Jordan Luplow is hitting just .143 with a single and five strikeouts in eight plate appearances. Greg Allen is hitless in 15 plate appearances, drawing a pair of walks while driving in three runs.
The outfield quintet is 12-for-80 (.150) with four doubles, ten walks, 31 strikeouts, and three RBI through the Tribe’s first seven games.
Gonzalez has had plenty of good seasons in his long career, but that production has dipped in recent years. He was once a seasonal 20-20 candidate on offense (doing so from 2010 to 2013), making three All-Star teams with Colorado, winning three Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards, and claiming the National League batting title in his first full season (third overall) in 2010. He has hit as many as 40 homers as recently as 2015 and has driven in 100 runs twice in his career (2010, 2016). He has worked exclusively as a right fielder for each of the last four years after working in left and center in the early stages of his big league career.
Last season, he appeared in 132 games, slashing .276/.329/.467 with 32 doubles, four triples, 16 homers, and 64 RBI. He played on a $5 million contract after returning to Colorado on a one-year deal in the offseason. In 2017, he made $20 million in the final year of his seven-year, $80 million extension that he signed in January of 2011.
One of the bigger knocks following Gonzalez over the years has been his home/road splits. He owns a career .323/.381/.592 mark at home (which has remained fairly consistent over the years) and a .251/.307/.420 line on the road. He was a career .328 hitter with a .388 OBP and .605 slugging mark at Coors Field in his 628 career games there, while hitting notably lighter away from his longtime home. If he makes the trip up I-71 from Columbus to Cleveland over the next couple of weeks, it will mark the first time that he has played at a new home ball park since playing at McAfee Coliseum (a previous name for Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, still home of the Athletics) during his rookie season in 2008 in his only MLB season with Oakland.
Gonzalez is expected to take Saturday night off after playing in each of Columbus’ first two games of the season. He should be back on the lineup card for the Clippers’ series finale on Sunday with the Indianapolis Indians.
Photo: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images