A lot has happened since veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez played his last big league game for the Dodgers on June 11.
Still trailing the Rockies by 1-1/2 games in the division, Los Angeles had a 39-25 record and was finally beginning to find its identity as a team. Initially called upon in late April after Andrew Toles fell victim to an ACL tear and Joc Pederson suffered a groin strain, some 21-year-old kid named Cody Bellinger was settling nicely into the left field spot, providing the Dodgers with a legitimate power threat for the first time in several years.
Gonzo’s exit in mid-June would be his second stint on the disabled list this season. Prior to 2017, he was a total stranger to the DL, having never been placed on the shelf with an injury during his first thirteen years in the bigs. Youth was no longer on his side, though, as the best cure for the degenerative disc in his back was to simply rest.
At the time, his numbers were at a career-low in terms of production. Gonzalez was slashing .255/.304/.339 with one home run and 23 RBI over 165 PA. The .255 average was his worst since his second year in the majors in 2005, when he hit .227 for the Rangers over 43 games. However, to use his 2017 numbers as an indicator of his current offensive potential may be a bit unfair, because it’s impossible to say how long his injury impacted his approach at the dish.
Regardless, when it looked like Adrian was destined for the disabled list for a lengthy period, the Dodgers made a few adjustments. The obvious choice was to move Bellinger to first base, which is his most comfortable spot on the field. Chris Taylor, who had been appearing all over the diamond in a super-utility role, eventually became the club’s primary left fielder, and has done an outstanding job to boot. Since Gonzo’s last game on June 11, the Dodgers have gone 44-9, and now lead the entire National League West by a whopping 17-1/2 games.
Gonzalez is showing signs of his normal self during his latest rehab stint which began at Triple-A Oklahoma City and has now shifted to High-A Rancho Cucamonga. Over the weekend, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported that Gonzo will be activated by big league club sometime during the team’s next road trip, which begins on Friday in Detroit.
So how exactly does Gonzalez fit into the Dodgers’ 25-man roster, and what types of roles will he play moving forward?
Manager Dave Roberts has already provided a few hints, telling Shaikin that Gonzo will “play his share” against right-handed pitching, but will be unlikely to start versus lefty pitching, providing the club with another valuable lefty bat off the pine.. Translated with a bit of speculation, the skipper’s statement suggests that Bellinger will start at first base with an opposing southpaw pitcher on the mound, while the rookie sensation will slide back into left field with a righty on the hill. Subsequently, Taylor could move into a platoon with Pederson in center when Bellinger plays in left field. Furthermore, if Joc continues to be mired in perhaps the worst slump of his career, Taylor could conceivably be the team’s primary center fielder until Pederson corrects his present dilemma.
Bellinger is more than capable of handling the duties in center field, but the fact that Roberts made a last minute decision to move Taylor into center in the opener against the Padres last Friday may be an indicator of what’s in store upon Gonzo’s return. Friday’s action in center for Taylor was his first in CF since June 23 against the Rockies.
Some critics are already implying that Gonzo’s return could potentially put a wrinkle in the Dodgers’ fantastic team chemistry, however, a better explanation of the club’s success this season can probably be defined by common attitude among all the players with a mutual understanding of the daily team goals as laid out by Roberts.
With those specific principles in mind, the presence of a healthy Gonzalez may make the Dodgers an even better club that what they are right now — if that’s even possible.
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