CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – There has not been a whole lot of consistency for Erik Gonzalez since being called up on May 14, playing in nine of 24 games in that span, starting four times.
The 25-year old from the Dominican Republic relished his fourth start of the season with a career game that was promising from the get go.
On the first play of the game, White Sox CF Leury Garcia grounded a ball up the middle after an 11-pitch at bat. The ball nicked starter Carlos Carrasco’s glove but still ran up the middle before Gonzalez used his lanky 6-foot-3 frame to snare the ball and beat Garcia by a step at first.
The manager was impressed.
“He made one of the best plays I’ve seen all year,” Terry Francona said. “And then Santana with a pick. You never know. That’s a hard way to start a game with a 10-pitch at-bat, have a runner on first. Because he was ready and talented, we got an out. It really helps.”
Gonzalez go on to start two double plays on defense, but the utility man turned in the third multi-hit game of his career. His career day was capped by his first career RBI on a single in the 4th and his first career extra-base hit, doubling and advancing to third on an error before scoring.
The talent has been apparent for years, but Gonzalez has been stranded in Triple-A Columbus since 2015 in part because of the major league talent ahead of him. Diversity has allowed him to see glances of major league time this season and last, but Gonzalez has stayed ready.
Only playing nine times in a month has been something that had concerned Francona, afraid of stunting the growth of a talented prospect.
“I worry about it a little bit because I don’t ever want to get in the way of his development,” the skipper added. “But to his credit, you can see that he’s staying sharp, he’s not losing a step defensively for sure and he’s been hitting in the cage with (hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo) and those guys. It’s just nice to see him have some success in a game. One, it helps us win. But two, you just feel better that he’s okay.”
The young right-hander says that he approaches each day like he is in the lineup, also admitting that the sporadic appearances were tough to cope with during his first tour of duty in 2016.
Gonzalez says he has since adjusted to his role by preparing specifically with his job in mind, something he says he learned from much maligned former utility man Michael Martinez.
“That’s my first teacher about that,” Gonzalez said. “Playing like one time in a week, or two or three times in a month, he told me you need to be prepared to play every day. When I’m at the field, in the game, for five innings, six innings, I keep prepared. I try to anticipate something, like something could happen right here and I could go in. He helped me a lot, telling me about that.”
Ultimately, the goal for Gonzalez remains that of any prospect, becoming an everyday player. With the likes of Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez on the Tribe infield, the window may not be open in a meritocracy, but injuries can strike at any time.
In the meantime, Gonzalez says he will prove his worth with the opportunities he is given.
“It’s the vision,” he proclaimed. “I think I’m going to be an everyday player. If I’ve got that with me, that keeps me happy every day. I know I’m going to get my opportunity to play every day. I think every day to try to imagine playing every day and that’s helped me to be ready for whatever happens.”