Gonzalez out to help Sox on trip
It has been six years since he last patrolled the outfield of a major league ballpark, so it’s not an entirely foreign concept to Adrian Gonzalez.
It was just one game, with the Texas Rangers on Sept. 30, 2005, against the Angels.
But when he was growing up in Chula Vista, Calif., Gonzalez and his brothers would venture across the border on weekends to play in elite leagues in Tijuana, where Gonzalez sometimes played the outfield in addition to his customary position at first base.
It was then, as it is now, no big deal.
So the Red Sox first baseman raised his hand, volunteering to play the outfield during a nine-game interleague road trip that begins tonight in Pittsburgh.
Gonzalez said he simply wanted to make room in Terry Francona’s lineup for designated hitter David Ortiz to play first base.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘willingness,’ it’s the fact that I’ve done it before,’’ said Gonzalez, who leads the majors in batting at .359. “If I was approached with it and Tito wanted me to do it a couple of games, I’d be OK with it.’’
Still, red flags were raised over the possibility of Gonzalez injuring himself, and Francona took yesterday’s off day to weigh that risk against the prospect of sitting Ortiz.
Until an 0-for-5 performance Tuesday night, Ortiz had a 14-game hitting streak during which he went 27 for 55 (.491), with 9 doubles, 4 home runs, and 13 RBIs. The manager does not want him to be idle for 11 days.
“That’s not good for us or for him,’’ Francona said.
“I have a lot of anxiety over this one. I got to figure out in my own head what is right.’’
Asked if he had reservations about getting injured, Gonzalez replied, “No, I’ll do whatever is needed for the team.’’
Said Ortiz, “As you guys know, Adrian’s a team player. Whatever he thinks is best for the ball club, he’s going to try and encourage that.’’
Still, the question remains: Can he do it?
“I saw Adrian play in the outfield with Texas when I was with the Angels [as a pitching coach],’’ said Padres manager Bud Black. “He can do it. He’s an athlete.
“And Adrian takes great pride in being a complete player. He’s someone who takes defense very seriously. He also takes team seriously.
“I’m sure if they asked him to play in the outfield because of need, he’d do it. Not all players are like that. Adrian has probably played more baseball and more outfield than you know.’’
To be sure, it will require some adjustments.
“Probably the biggest one is getting your reads off the bat, that’s the No. 1 thing,’’ said Drew Sutton, who has toggled between Boston and Pawtucket, playing the outfield, shortstop, second base, and third base.
During batting practice, Sutton will take both ground balls in the infield and flies in the outfield.
“Really, that’s the best game-like situation, getting reads on balls off live batting,’’ Sutton said. “Whether it’s off a lefty or righty, the ball will always go towards the line.
“Sometimes you can underestimate how much fade or draw it’ll have, because it’s different with every swing. You’re going to get different action off a Ryan Braun as opposed to a Corey Hart, who has a lot of topspin, so it varies from player to player.
“I know he’s good enough, as far as being savvy baseball-wise, that he’ll be fine and he’ll be able to figure it out. We’re counting on him to drive in more runs than he allows, so you have to consider that.
“But you definitely don’t want to have Gonzalez or Ortiz out of the lineup, especially the way they’ve been swinging it right now.’’
Francona understands the difficulty in making such a transition, since he played the infield and the outfield.
“I started out as an outfielder, and when I first came in to the infield I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s awful close,’ ’’ he said. “Once I got comfortable in the infield, it was easier for me to go to the outfield. It wasn’t so much catching the ball as it was trying to get to the ball. It’s different. You talk to people and it’s just comfort.
“But I have no doubt, just from watching him out there [at first base], that he’ll catch it and he’ll throw it to the right base. Now he probably won’t run something down like [Carl] Crawford or Ells [Jacoby Ellsbury], but I don’t doubt that he can make the plays that he’s supposed to.’’
Gonzalez, after all, is a two-time Gold Glove winner (2008-09) at first base.
“Guys don’t ever want to get embarrassed,’’ said Francona, who recalled exposing Kevin Youkilis to such ridicule when he was conscripted to play the outfield. “I remember with Youk there was a funny-spin ball in Toronto, and it went by him. Then [it happened] in Yankee Stadium and I was like, ‘That’s what I don’t want to happen.’
“Guy’s trying to be a good guy and help us out and he’s not used to being out there and he’s trying to make a play, so I’m worried about that, too.’’
Youkilis said you cannot overthink the situation.
“When you’re not an outfielder, you just go out there and give your all, you don’t worry about the outcomes,’’ he said. “You’re out of position, so you can’t worry about it. You just gotta go out there and play as hard as you can. If you don’t make a play, it’s not through a lack of effort.
“I never took the attitude that I was an outfielder and had to make all the plays. Other people put that out there. If Adrian makes great plays, that’s great.
“I give him credit for the fact that he’s stepping up and being a team player.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.