Adrian wastes little time in first Red Sox action
With shoulder game-ready, surprise starter singles on first pitch
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There were no backfield tuneups or "B" games for Adrian Gonzalez. Once his surgically repaired right shoulder had healed enough for a game situation, Gonzalez wanted to play in an actual game.
So the day came on Saturday, and on the first pitch he saw, Boston's new star first baseman raked a single to left-center against Marlins right-hander Josh Johnson, who happens to be one of the best pitchers in the game. It was the first pitch Gonzalez had tracked from a Major League pitcher since Oct. 3 of last season.
Nothing to it, right?
"No, I mean, Josh Johnson is a guy who has a great fastball, so you can't give him anything," said Gonzalez. "My game plan was just to go up there and look for a fastball that I could get on top of and I was able to execute that first pitch."
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In Gonzalez's second at-bat, he again made solid contact, this time raking a liner to center that Dewayne Wise made a diving catch on, resulting in a sacrifice fly.
"You'd think that after that long a wait and coming off an injury, he'd be a little jumpy," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He was probably anything but that. Nice little liner to left, and then he had a nice at-bat where he got the sac fly. So it's a good start. He wanted to stay in, and I think that's also good. I think we have time to not rush things. He'll just hit tomorrow with the guys and then he'll get a couple of more at-bats Monday night."
As short a debut as it was, Gonzalez provided a glimpse of the type of line drives he will spray throughout what Boston hopes will be a special baseball summer.
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein had eyed Gonzalez for a couple of years, hoping he could one day bring him to Boston. The Sox traded three of their top prospects -- Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes -- to ultimately make it happen.
Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are the two additions that have Red Sox fans salivating for the start of the 2011 regular season. Opening Day is April 1 in Texas. And despite Gonzalez being on a slower program than the rest of the position players because of the shoulder surgery he had in October, there was never a doubt he'd be ready in time for the start of the regular season.
"I'm on schedule," Gonzalez said. "We never set a schedule to be ahead or behind. You just take a day at a time and when you're ready, you're ready. I've been saying this all along -- I don't like to get ahead of myself. I'm never going to say I'm ahead or behind schedule. I'm just on schedule. One thing I've said all along is that I'll be ready Opening Day."
There was no build-up to Gonzalez's Grapefruit League debut, because it wasn't announced ahead of time. When reporters got into the clubhouse at 8 a.m. ET on Saturday morning, Gonzalez's name was in the lineup, batting third.
"[Trainer Mike Reinold] came to me, kind of mapped it out, said, 'This is not in stone concrete, can't go off of it, but if everything happens as I foresee, you might play Saturday, you might play Monday,'" Gonzalez said. "It wasn't a specific time or day or whatever, but felt good today. I kept it easy with two at-bats. We'll see how it feels tomorrow."
While Gonzalez was able to get nicely reacclimated at the plate, there was nothing hit to him at first, despite starting pitcher John Lackey's best efforts.
"He told me before the game -- try to get a ground ball on the first guy," said Lackey. "I got to two strikes and I tried to go fastball in so he'd hit it over there. He hit it to [Dustin Pedroia] instead."
Defense is where Gonzalez felt his shoulder the most last summer, with every dive causing pain.
"I'm not going to be able to [dive] until the season," Gonzalez said. "I'm not diving. I'm staying away from it, not putting any stress on it. Hopefully I'll put myself in the right position where the ball is hit at me, instead of to my left and to my right."
As much as the Red Sox like Gonzalez's glove -- he is highly underrated in that aspect -- the main reason they got him is for his bat.
With Gonzalez in the middle of the lineup, be it third, fourth or fifth, the Red Sox are going to be a tough matchup for opposing pitchers.
There were glimpses Saturday. Gonzalez's first at-bat was preceded by a double by Jacoby Ellsbury and a single from Pedroia. Next time he came up, Ellsbury again doubled and Pedroia reached on an infield hit.
Combine the depth of Boston's lineup with the fact Gonzalez will be playing half of his games at Fenway Park, and he could be on the verge of a career year.
"Hitting is contagious," said Gonzalez. "That's how it's going to help. Scoring more runs is just going to help, whether it's me hitting or watching someone else on the team drive them in, you watch guys get hits on your team, you want to go up there and get hits as well."