Adrian Gonzalez is showing subtle signs he is about to break out of his season long slump.
Adrian Gonzalez is Mount St. Helens right now. He is set to erupt. But like any volcano there are signs—hissing, steaming signs the roof is about to blow off the whole thing.
Gonzalez is off to a brutal start by his own standards. He’s batting .267 with 35 RBI and only five home runs.
Five home runs—that number scares Red Sox Nation.
However, there are subtle signs things are about to turn the corner.
If we look close enough, we can hear the hissing has started, see the steaming has started, that Gonzo is about to go off.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are from baseball-reference.com.
Gonzalez showed some signs of life on June 8 against Washington.
Gonzalez has to start somewhere.
In order for Gonzo to explode out of his poor start he needs a foundation of confidence to build upon. Perhaps the first brick in that foundation was his June 8 performance against the Washington Nationals.
In that game he went 2-5 with a double and a home run. It was his 200th home run of his career. It was not just the fact he hit the home run, it was the sheer force he unloaded on it.
If fictional play-by-play announcer Harry Doyle, portrayed by Bob Uecker, from the movie Major League was calling this game, he may have said something like, "It is out of here, and there is nothing left but a vapor trail!" (h/t IMBd)
Extra base hits are what gets a batter’s heart pumping and it was a long time coming for Gonzalez. Before June 8, the last time Gonzalez had at least two extra-base hits in one game was against the Detroit Tigers on May 30. He had two doubles that night.
In addition, his June 8 performance came on the heels his June 7 3-4 night against the Baltimore Orioles. He had two singles, a double and drove in two runs.
Over the course of two days Gonzalez had nice little 5-9 streak going. He had two doubles, a home run and three RBI.
It is not exactly an eruption, but there are signs the steam is starting to poke through.
Gonzalez had a great game against the Miami Marlins on June 13.
While he couldn't find his power stroke he helped out in other ways. He went 3-5 with a run scored. He also knocked in two RBI in Boston's 10-2 thrashing of Miami.
Gonzo needed a night like this. After his great night on June 8 he went hitless until his three hit outburst.
Confidence—confidence is key right now.
Although fans would love to see the long ball, any contribution Gonzo can make only lightens the burden on his shoulders.
If Gonzalez starts to feel comfortable at the plate, even by hitting singles, the home runs will come.
Red Sox batting coach, Dave Magadan, summed it up best when told Rod Bradford of WEEI:
I think what happens to hitters is that there is a certain amount of impatience. I think it's a combination of that, and what he's experiencing mechanically. He doesn't feel good at the plate. He's trying a lot of different things, whether it's a tap, feet close together, spread out, far apart. When you're doing those things you tend to lose your strike zone because you're worrying about yourself instead of focusing on the pitcher, the release point and getting a pitch to hit. In other words, instead of 100 percent of the focus being on the baseball, it's 70-30, or 60-40, and when you do that you tend to not swing at strikes, and that's kind of what he's going through right now. He's swinging at a lot of balls out of the zone, a lot of pitches in and up, which when he doesn't do.
A three-hit night for Gonzalez can go a long toward his focus being 100 percent on the pitcher.
And when Gonzalez has complete focus on the pitcher, he is one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball.
Ok, so the long ball is not there yet. The talk about Gonzo’s slump is legit.
But lost in the fog of negativity is the fact Gonzalez is tied for first place in doubles in the American League.
Ian Kinsler and Gonzalez both have 22 doubles on the year. (h/t ESPN)
Granted, the Red Sox did not acquire Gonzalez for his doubles. They acquired him for his defense and power. But you have to crawl before you walk.
Gonzalez is making pitchers pay with the two base hit.
On June 7, Gonzalez hit a bases loaded two-run double down the first base line against the Baltimore Orioles. The hit gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead. A lead they would never relinquish.
In 12 games this June, four of Gonzalez’s 13 hits have been doubles. He also seems to be timing his doubles just right.
On June 1, against the Toronto Blue Jays, Gonzalez went 3-5, with a double, two RBI and one run scored.
The big hit was the double. It gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead and they would never look back.
Yes, Red Sox fans would love to see home runs. But the doubles are adding up. They are the percolating lava set to explode into something bigger.
Adrian Gonzalez had light power numbers for the Padres in June of 2009.
2009 was arguably Gonzalez's best season of his career.
He hit .277, with 40 home runs and 99 RBI.
But what did he do in June of that year? He hit .235, with four home runs and eight RBI. Those numbers look a little familiar, don't they?
True, Gonzalez exploded out of the gate in the 2009 season on bad San Diego Padres team. Pitchers had no reason to give him anything to hit. He rarely saw anything he could drive and ended up with 32 walks that June.
But still, in one of the best seasons of his career, Gonzo put up very light power numbers in June.
Even the quotes from that season sound very similar to what is being said this June.
In 2009, Edgar Martinez told Bob Nightengale of USA Today:
"I'm starting to see some frustration. You see his ability, and it's just as good as any of the elite players in the game. So when you don't get anything to hit and when you see the team losing, it's tough on Adrian, because he is just so competitive."
Unless Gonzalez falls into some kind of Babe Ruthian groove, he will not hit 40 home runs this season.
But there is no reason to believe a player of Gonzo's caliber cannot do what he did from July onward in the 2009 season.
Gonzalez was able to put his frustrations aside and hit .283, with 16 home runs and 51 RBI from July 1 though October 4 that year.
It is not a stretch to believe Gonzalez can match what he did in the second half of 2009. Sixteen home runs from now through the end of season would be an explosion for Gonzalez—one fans and Gonzalez could both live with.
Jacoby Ellsbury could be back in the lineup before the All-Star break.
A player of Gonzalez's caliber simply does not wallow in mediocrity all season. He proved he could put up great numbers in San Diego with no protection around him at all. He single-handedly pulled himself up by his bootstraps after a mediocre June of 2009 to finish the year with 40 home runs.
He will not have to do that in Boston.
Jacoby Ellsbury will be back in Boston soon enough. Ellsbury has been throwing and hitting off a tee recently. According to rotoworld.com, "The Red Sox haven't placed a firm timetable on him, but it seems reasonable to think he could make it back before the All-Star break."
More protection in the lineup for Gonzalez could be a boon for his numbers.
Granted, he has had David Ortiz behind him in most of Bobby Valentine's lineups this season. But with more solid bats in the lineup, the less pressure Gonzo has to put on himself.
Let's face it, Daniel Nava and Scott Podsednick have been nice surprises for the Red Sox—but they don't exactly strike fear in the opposing pitcher's heart.
Then there is Carl Crawford. According to ESPN, "Crawford is with the Red Sox right now, but will travel to Fort Myers to continue working out there. He feels he's at least a week or two from getting into games."
Cody Ross (when healthy) and Ryan Sweeney have done a nice job filling in for Crawford and company in the outfield, but neither have the elite ability Crawford potentially brings.
With two potential stars returning to the lineup, Gonzalez may be able to relax a little at the plate.
Ellsbury and Crawford: that kind of fire power in the lineup could be the precursor to the power explosion from Gonzalez Red Sox fans have been waiting for.