|Red Sox still wrestling with decision on Gonzalez in outfield on NL swing||06.22.11 at 1:58 pm ET|
The time is nigh.
After the Red Sox finish their contest against the Padres at Fenway Park on Wednesday afternoon, they will have an off day and then travel to Pittsburgh to kick off a nine-game, 10-day roadtrip through National League parks to wrap up interleague play. It is always a frustrating stretch of the schedule, but the fact that the Sox must visit three straight NL cities this year is particularly frustrating, since the Sox face the specter of being without their designated hitter for an extended stretch.
That, in turn, creates concerns about disrupting the tremendous rhythm of DH David Ortiz. Ortiz has been one of the top hitters in the American League this year, carrying a .317 average, .395 OBP, .592 slugging mark, .988 OPS and 17 homers through the Sox’ first 73 games this year.
“If we don’t play David for 11 days, that’s going to kill him,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “I don’t want to do that. There’s some things to think about.”
Yet sticking Ortiz at first base is a flawed option as well, since Adrian Gonzalez has been even better. He is leading the majors with a .350 average while featuring a .403 OBP, .603 slugging mark, 1.006 OPS, 15 homers and a major league leading 68 RBI.
And so, the chief subject of reflection for the Sox is whether to have Adrian Gonzalez play some games in right field during the coming roadtrip through Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Houston so that Ortiz can get in the lineup as a first baseman. Gonzalez has told Francona that he’d only be comfortable in right and not left, based on the fact that a) his reads of the ball off the bat would be similar to what he faces at first base and b) that’s where his prior experience in the outfield — with the Rangers and in the Mexican Winter League in 2005 — came.
That would mean either taking J.D. Drew out of the lineup or moving him to left field — both certainly less than ideal options in their own right. The Sox acknowledge that they would be trading offense for defense, since they’d be weakening themselves both with Ortiz filling in for two-time Gold Glover Gonzalez at first and with Gonzalez replacing a terrific outfielder in Drew in right field.
Those are some of the variables in play as the Sox prepare to contemplate how to proceed in at least the first two series of the roadtrip in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, with those variables as well as the probable starting pitchers helping to determine a course of action.
“I’ve thought about it,” said Francona. “Gonzi has been taking some balls out in the outfield. He’s very willing to do it. My concerns are a couple of things. One is I don’t want David to go 11 days without playing. That’s not good for us or for him. If you put Gonzi in right — that’s the one place he says he can play — you’re potentially taking J.D. out of the lineup or moving him to left. We’ve got guys all over the place.
“And then the other thing is, Gonzi, if something ever happened to him, I’d catch a lot of [grief]. I don’t want to [injure him],” said Francona. “I actually have some anxiety over this one. I want to do what’s right, and I’ve got to try to figure out in my own head what is right.”
Gonzalez reads the field well and has good baseball instincts, even though his foot speed is subject to jokes (including his own) for being virtually non-existent. He has good hands, and based on that as well as his past work in right, the Sox think that he could manage the task.
“Gonzi, I have no doubt, just from watching him out there, that if it’s hit to him, he’ll catch it and he’ll throw the ball to the right base,” said Francona. “I don’t think he’s going to run something down like [Carl Crawford] or [Jacoby Ellsbury]. But I don’t doubt he’ll make the plays he’s supposed to.”
Still, Francona is also mindful of what happened in 2009, when injuries pressed Kevin Youkilis into two games in the outfield. He committed an error on a base hit in Toronto and then, in a series in Yankee Stadium, misread a fly ball, resulting in a hit.
Of course, left field in Yankee Stadium featured immense ground to cover. That is not true of right field in either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, which are fairly manageable parts of the park.
Still, putting Gonzalez in right and Ortiz at first is an imperfect solution at best — even if, barring an injury to either slugger, it may well be the team’s best option. That is a reality with which the Sox are wrestling right now.
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