WHAT IS WRONG WITH CARGO?

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Groke John Leyba, The Den­ver Post Nick Groke: ngroke@den­ver­post.com or @nick­groke

The slight smile that slipped across Car­los Gon­za­lez’s face late Tues­day night in his cor­ner of Colorado’s club­house was a half-mea­sure, some­thing to match his num­bers this sea­son.

Through nearly four months, as the Rock­ies po­si­tioned them­selves for a run to­ward the post­sea­son, their most ac­com­plished hit­ter re­mained some­thing short of him­self. His two hits that day against San Diego — just his fifth mul­ti­hit game in two months — looked like a trace of the two-time Sil­ver Slug­ger.

“My first at-bat I struck out, so I was a lit­tle freaked out,” Gon­za­lez said, walk­ing his mind through a vex­ing sea­son. “But I thought, just keep­ing do­ing what you were work­ing on. Then I put to­gether two good at-bats. That’s what I’ve been look­ing for.”

Gon­za­lez is tan­gled in his worst pro­fes­sional sea­son over a 10-year ca­reer, hit­ting .218 with a mi­nus­cule, team-worst .630 OPS (on-base plus slug­ging per­cent­age). His six home runs are far off pace from his 60 homers over the past two sea­sons. And the Rock­ies are run­ning out of time wait­ing for the sweet-swing­ing lefty to get right.

“It’s more frus­tra­tion than doubt,” Gon­za­lez said. “When the game feels re­ally fast, that’s when you get re­ally con­cerned. But that’s not my case. I’m see­ing the ball well, I’m healthy, I feel strong. I’m just miss­ing my pitches.”

Over nine sea­sons with the Rock­ies, Gon­za­lez al­ways led the way with his smile. He is a beam­ing and boom­ing pres­ence on a team that so of­ten strug­gled, play­ing through seven los­ing sea­sons and miss­ing the play­offs ev­ery year but one since Colorado traded for him be­fore the 2009 sea­son.

That is why his ex­tended slump is so dif­fi­cult. Just when the team caught up to Gon­za­lez, he fell be­hind. Colorado man­ager Bud Black has pen­ciled the vet­eran right-fielder onto just eight start­ing lineup cards this month, while sit­ting him in seven.

If his con­fi­dence has wa­vered, his team­mates have not lost it in him.

“We know CarGo. CarGo is the man on this team,” left fielder Ger­ardo Parra said. “Even when he is strug­gling, he is the man.”

Said third base­man Nolan Are­nado: “We have a chance to take it to an­other level when CarGo gets go­ing. Ev­ery­one in the league knows CarGo. They know how hot he can get. We need him. When he does get hot, our lineup will change for sure.”

They are still wait­ing. Gon­za­lez’s dou­ble off the bullpen fence in right­cen­ter Tues­day was his first since June 21 and just his third ex­tra-base hit since June 6. Black, though, sat him the next day against Padres left-han­der Clay­ton Richard, as the Rock­ies in his ab­sence scored 18 runs on 21 hits.

“Yeah, I was tempted,” Black said of get­ting Gon­za­lez back into the lineup. “I just think, I wanted to get Desi (Ian Des­mond) back in there. Home run rule, Mark Reynolds home­red, play him the next day. I wanted to get Nolan back in there. Parra has been good. Char­lie (Black­mon) has been good. CarGo has been work­ing on some things me­chan­i­cally and it gave him a good day to work in the cage.”

The so­lu­tion to Gon­za­lez’s trou­ble at the plate has been elu­sive. Strike­outs are not a prob­lem: He is not whiff­ing at a much higher rate than his ca­reer av­er­age (22.2 per­cent com­pared to 22.0 per­cent) and he is walk­ing more (10 per­cent, up from 7.9).

But he is not hit­ting the ball with force. His hard-con­tact rate is down, from a 34.8 per­cent ca­reer mark to 28.6 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Fan­graphs. Through his ca­reer, Gon­za­lez has been among the hard­est-hit­ting slug­gers in base­ball, reg­u­larly listed next to Miami’s Gian­carlo Stan­ton on top exit ve­loc­ity.

Gon­za­lez be­lieves his is­sue is in­tent. He is try­ing to stay calm, lower his hands and try not to over­swing. He wants to minimize the noise in a win­some swing that starts with a high leg­kick and ends with a loop­ing fol­lowthrough. There are enough mov­ing parts to make tim­ing es­pe­cially im­por­tant.

“I’m just try­ing to be me,” he said. “It’s not like we’re rein­vent­ing some­thing or try­ing to change my swing. I’m just try­ing to be my old self. I’m watch­ing a lot of video of my­self, com­par­ing what I’m do­ing now to what I’ve done in the past.”

And as the Rock­ies edge to­ward August, with out­field prospects Raimel Tapia and David Dahl wait­ing in the wings, and Parra streak­ing since the all-star break, Gon­za­lez can only trust that his swing will sur­face again be­fore his team runs out of time wait­ing.

“That’s the key to suc­cess in the big leagues: Stay pos­i­tive and be­lieve the stuff you’re work­ing on will help you,” he said.

Car­los Gon­za­lez is hit­ting .218 with a team-worst .630 OPS (on-base plus slug­ging per­cent­age), with just six home runs.

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