Coming out swinging
Gonzalez vows to reach expectations
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Had the Red Sox managed to beat the Baltimore Orioles Sunday, Adrian Gonzalez said going hitless in eight at-bats over 17 innings wouldn’t have bothered him too much.
“I’d rather go 0 for 8 and win than go 3 for 5 and lose,’’ he said Monday before the Sox played the Royals. “All I really care about is winning.’’
But the Red Sox did lose and the long, fruitless day added to what has been a frustrating season for Gonzalez. He even struck out on three pitches with two runners on and no outs in the 17th against Chris Davis, a position player pressed into service on the mound.
That left Gonzalez hitting .264 with two home runs and 15 RBIs through 27 games, statistics far below his expectations and those of fans who believe Gonzalez should be carrying the injury-riddled Sox, not holding them back.
During a lengthy conversation at his locker, a candid and direct Gonzalez vowed his performance would reach the levels his $154 million contract suggests they should.
“I can’t focus on the statistics. I know [the media] has to, that’s their job. But the home runs will be there. I look at batting average with runners in scoring position, on-base and slugging,’’ he said.
“The only thing I can say is that when the last day of the season comes, [his slugging percentage] is going to be over .500 and the on-base is going to around .400. You may not see it right now because it’s May 7. But I promise you when the season is over, the slugging will be over .500 and the on-base will be around .400. It is every year.’’
Gonzalez scoffed at the idea that he is having trouble handling the pressure of playing in Boston after spending the bulk of his career with the low-profile San Diego Padres.
“It has never been a transition. I don’t understand why people talk about the transition,’’ he said. “People talk about transitioning to the American League and the Boston market and all that stuff. That has zero effect on anything. Why? Because I don’t pay attention to it. I hit. I don’t care where I’m playing. I don’t care where I’m hitting. I don’t care who I’m hitting against. I’m trying to help the team win. That’s the only thing that matters.
“I can’t control what people write and what people think. So why should I worry about it? Nobody is going to look and try and get to know me. They just want to make assumptions about me.’’
Gonzalez also said he is fully healthy for the first time in several years. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder after the 2010 season and felt the residual effects all last season.
“I had to have a bunch of cortisone shots and I had tendinitis and all sorts of stuff going on [last season]. It’s all in the past now,’’ Gonzalez said. “It’s 100 percent now. My shoulder is 100 percent.’’
In a way, that has added to his puzzlement at the plate. Because he feels so good, Gonzalez has tried to elevate the ball, which goes against his usual line-drive approach. When he catches himself swinging under the ball, he over-adjusts and ends up pounding it into the ground.
“I get frustrated by the back and forth. You try and make it happen instead of letting it happen. You get caught in the middle,’’ Gonzalez said. “That’s the battle I’m fighting. I don’t want to hit the ball on the ground ever. Now that I have a healthy shoulder, I’m expecting myself to do things. I’m kind of forcing it a little bit.’’
The other part of the equation is finding a comfort zone at Fenway Park. Gonzalez has hit .332 at Fenway since being acquired from the Padres, but has only 11 home runs in 377 at-bats.
After making dozens of outs on fly balls to the warning track at San Diego’s spacious Petco Park, the industry-wide belief was that Gonzalez would turn those into home runs at Fenway. But it hasn’t happened.
Going back to the 2011 All-Star break, he has hit three home runs at Fenway, one for every 34.2 at-bats.
“It’s tough to say [why]. Most of my home runs are line drives the other way. It’s taken away a few because they go off the wall when you hit them hard,’’ Gonzalez said. “I hit a couple of balls against Tampa [earlier this season] that could have been home runs and end up being singles.
“[Fenway] definitely gives you a lot of [batting] average. But I don’t hit the ball high to left field. I hit a line drive with backspin that carries.’’
Based on previous years and what has been an unflagging work ethic, Gonzalez believes he will turn it around. Perhaps it started Monday with two hits and an RBI in an 11-5 win.
“I know where I’ll be at the end of the year,’’ Gonzalez said in a firm voice.
“I’m going to go through two or three stretches where you’re asking everybody in the clubhouse, ‘What’s been so great about him? What adjustments have you seen?’ But there won’t be any different adjustments. It’ll just be that I’m hitting at the time. That’s how it is. When you find that zone, you go off. It doesn’t matter who you’re facing.
“Trust me, it’s going to happen.’’