WHAT IS WRONG WITH CARGO?
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.