Gon­za­lez has suc­cess with new ap­proach

Dodgers first base­man makes changes at the plate and con­tin­ues to be highly pro­duc­tive.

Los Angeles Times - - BASEBALL - By Dy­lan Her­nan­dez dy­lan.her­nan­dez@la­times.com Twit­ter: @dy­lanoh­er­nan­dez

SAN DIEGO — Re­turn­ing this week­end to the sta­dium that was once his home, Adrian Gon­za­lez re­flected on his evo­lu­tion as a player.

Think­ing about his days play­ing for the San Diego Padres, Gon­za­lez said wist­fully, “Back then, I could mishit home runs.” And now? “I don’t mishit home runs,” he said with a laugh. “I have to hit it.”

Gon­za­lez nonethe­less re­mains a mid­dle-of-the-lineup fix­ture at 33. On Satur­day night, he bat­ted third for the Dodgers in the sec­ond game of their three-game se­ries against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. The Dodgers lost, 2-1.

The four-time All-Star went into the game bat­ting .317 with 11 home runs and 40 runs bat­ted in. Hewas 0 for 4 on Satur­day.

Gon­za­lez cred­its his con­tin­ued pro­duc­tion on a change that was rec­om­mended to him by Dodgers hit­ting coach Mark McGwire.

When the left-handed-hit­ting Gon­za­lez was se­lected to his first All-Star teams with the Padres, he of­ten looked to drive the ball to left cen­ter field. That was the case for his first cou­ple of sea­sons with the Dodgers.

Some time last sea­son, the first base­man started look­ing to drive the ball to right-cen­ter field.

“You have to evolve as a player, as a hit­ter, as you get older,” Gon­za­lez said. “When I was in my early 20s, I could sit up there, wait for a fast­ball away and hit it out to left. If I hit it to left good, it was a home run. You had more kid’s strength. If I do the same thing now, it’s prob­a­bly caught at the wall. Even though you get stronger as you get older, your swing isn’t as quick or there’s not as much thump be­hind it.”

McGwire said he was aware of Gon­za­lez’s rep­u­ta­tion as an op­po­site-field hit­ter. But McGwire was also aware Gon­za­lez un­der­went a ma­jor shoul­der op­er­a­tion lead­ing up to the 2011sea­son.

There were also changes in the sport to con­sider.

McGwire said there are sig­nif­i­cantly more hard-throw­ing pitch­ers nowthan when he played.

“You’d get maybe a hand­ful of guys that threw 95-plus through­out the di­vi­sion,” McGwire said. “Now, it seems like you get a hand­ful of guys per team.”

But th­ese same pitch­ers of­ten lack re­fine­ment and are prone to mak­ing mis­takes.

By look­ing more for fast­balls on the in­side half of the plate, Gon­za­lez be­lieves he can take ad­van­tage of the con­di­tions.

“If you’re think­ing left cen­ter, you might be think­ing fast­ball away, let it get deep and stay on the off-speed stuff,” he said. “If you’re think­ing more right cen­ter, if he throws a fast­ball in the strike zone, I’m go­ing to hit it in front.” The new ap­proach worked. Gon­za­lez fin­ished last sea­son with 27home­runs. The last time he hit more was in 2010. He­has stuck with the plan. Of his 11home runs this sea­son, only one was to left field, ac­cord­ing to ESPN’s home run tracker. That marks a rad­i­cal shift fromhis 2009 sea­son with the Padres, when 24 of his ca­reer-high 40 home runs were to left field.

The re­cov­ered power, how­ever, comes at a cost.

“Look­ing mid­dle-in to drive the ball, I don’t see it as a hit-for-av­er­age men­tal­ity,” he said. “I see it more as a .280 with 25 to 35 [home runs]. If I had more of a sin­gles up­the-mid­dle-or-other-way ap­proach, I’d be more of a .300 hit­ter but more of a 20-home run guy.”

In what he be­lieves was the best sea­son of his ca­reer, he bat­ted a rel­a­tively mod­est .276.

Gon­za­lez at­tributes the de­crease in bat­ting av­er­age to the de­fen­sive shifts he of­ten faces.

“You know that if you hit the ball on the ground, you’re out,” he said. “You’re go­ing to hit balls hard into the shifts and there’s noth­ing you can do about it. Peo­ple al­ways go, ‘Hit the ball the oth­er­way for a hit.’ Well, yeah, I could, but I’m not go­ing to hit home runs. I can hit for av­er­age that way, but do you want your first base­man to be a .300 hit­ter with10 homers? Don’t tell me to hit the ball the other way but still ask me to hit home­runs. You’re not go­ing to get both.”

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