Gonzalez ‘felt great’ in Sox debut
|03.12.11 at 1:17 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Well, that was quick.
Gonzalez stepped to the plate for the first time as a member of the Red Sox in the bottom of the first inning, greeted by a warm round of applause by the fans at City of Palms Park. After starter Josh Johnson threw once to first to hold Dustin Pedroia (on base following a run-scoring single), the big right-hander fired a fastball up and away. Gonzalez immediately jumped on the pitch, lining it to left field for a single, flashing the remarkable ability to drive the ball to the opposite field that has made him such a dangerous hitter.
“Josh Johnson is a guy who has a great fastball so you can’t give him anything,” said Gonzalez. “My game-plan was just to go up there and look for a fastball that I could get on top of and I was able to execute that first pitch.”
In the top of the second, Gonzalez stepped to the plate again with runners on the corners and one out. After falling behind Johnson, 1-2, he lined a pitch to centerfielder Dewayne Wise (best remembered for making the incredible catch to preserve Mark Buehrle‘s perfect game in 2009) on which the outfielder made a sliding catch. Gonzalez was credited with a sacrifice fly.
“My game plan was to be ready for the fastball,” said Gonzalez. “I was going to consciously swing through any offspeed pitch and if he made a good pitch, be ready to recognize it and take it. But I was gearing up for the fastball the entire at-bat.”
That was it for Gonzalez, who was replaced at first base by Drew Sutton for the top of the third inning after his 1-for-1 day. The game represented a satisfying check mark for the first baseman in his recovery from the surgery. He had answered some questions when his shoulder responded pain-free to batting practice, and he answered more on Saturday when thrust into a game situation.
“It feels good. [Batting practice] the first couple of days I made a conscious effort to let it go and swing hard to see how it would respond. You can’t take it easy and swing hard in the game and then you feel something. You’d rather swing hard in a more controlled environment in a sense,” said Gonzalez. “It responded well, so I went to more of a game mentality today and yesterday and made sure to put good swings on the ball.”
This was one test, but others remain. For starters, he saw only fastballs in his two at-bats against Johnson, and so he is eager to see breaking balls and changeups to gain his timing against the full spectrum of pitches.
Other aspects of his progression will have to wait for the regular season. For instance, he switched from his usual 35 inch, 33 ounce bat last year to a 34/31 in deference to his shoulder. He continues to use the lighter bat, though anticipates switching back to his heavier model in the regular season. Defensively, he plans to take precautions to protect his surgically repaired shoulder.
“I’m not going to be able to [dive] until the season. I’m not diving. I’m staying away from it, not putting any stress on it,” said Gonzalez. “Hopefully I’ll put myself in the right position where the ball is hit at me, instead of to my left and to my right.”
Even so, while his rehab is still in its finishing stages rather than complete, Saturday represented a significant milestone. The 28-year-old said that he woke up excited about the prospect of getting into a game with his new team. And as he took another step forward in a process that he has maintained all spring will have him ready for Opening Day, Gonzalez was able to enjoy his Sox debut.
“It felt great,” said Gonzalez, who will have Sunday off before returning to the lineup on Monday night against the Yankees. “It was really good to be out there.
“Everything is coming along and there’s nicks like everything else, which I would have had even if I was 100 percent. It’s been a great process up until now. I’m still planning to be ready for Opening Day.”
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