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Injuries won't keep Gonzalez down

12/28/2010

SAN DIEGO -- Adrian Gonzalez first hurt his right shoulder in the last couple of weeks of the 2009 season, but missed only two games the entire 2010 season before undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in October.

He could deal with a bad shoulder. An ingrown hair in his knee? That’s a different story.

“The only time I’ve ever been on the DL in my career is when I had a staph infection,’’ he said in a recent interview here. “I was in Oklahoma City [Texas’ Triple-A team). We had a day off. The next day, we were flying. I had a little ingrown hair in my knee, and I just tried to poke it a little bit. Nothing came out.

“We went for a four-game road trip to New Orleans. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to that ballpark, but back then it was absolutely old and filthy, one of those places that just had never been cleaned. With the humidity, it’s underground, it’s just like very moldy. A bad place.

“By the third day, my knee started getting really red and really sore, so I went and told the trainer. He said to put on some gloves and try to get it out. I got a little pus out, then left it alone. The next day, I woke up and was really aching. I played that day, but the next morning when I got up and got on the plane, I had a fever.’’

Upon the team’s return to Oklahoma City, Gonzalez went directly to the hospital. “I had redness all the way up to here,’’ Gonzalez said, gesturing to the top of his leg. “The anesthesia shot hurt more than anything else. They put medicated gauze inside my leg. I had to be out of commission for two weeks.

“I’d never been on the DL for a pulled muscle, things like that, but here I was, because of me trying to poke out an ingrown hair. I learned my lesson. Any time I even touch anything, I always use a little alcohol swab.’’

That was five years ago.

Gonzalez was playing for the Portland Sea Dogs, now Boston’s affiliate in the Class AA Eastern League but at the time a Florida farm club, when he was hit by a pitch in the right wrist during the 2002 season. He doesn’t recall who the pitcher was (“a lefty in the Mets organization’’), but remembers how much the wrist bothered him, for weeks.

“Every day I was in the training room and told them, ‘Hey this hurts. It’s to a point I don’t even want to take BP, I’ll just go straight to the game.’ They were like, ‘Oh, it’s just tendonitis. When the season’s over, we’ll take care of it.’’’

So Gonzalez would wrap the wrist in tape as tightly as he could. At the end of the season, he said, the training staff gave the wrist a cortisone shot and put it in a cast. It wasn’t until after Thanksgiving that the severity of the injury was discovered: Gonzalez had torn cartilage, and underwent surgery, very much like the operation Nomar Garciaparra had on his wrist.

“It affected me for a good year and a half, two years,’’ he said. “I didn’t get my power back. I wasn’t able to use that wrist as I wanted to. I hit five home runs the next season.’’

And the Marlins gave up on him. The team had been sold by John W. Henry to Jeffrey Loria, who brought in an entirely new staff, which did not have the same connection to the former No. 1 draft pick as its predecessor. Gonzalez was traded in a July deadline deal to the Texas Rangers as part of a package for closer Ugueth Urbina, who helped the Marlins to a World Series title.

Gonzalez said he originally hurt his shoulder near the end of the 2009 season, diving back into second base while attempting to avoid being doubled off on a line drive. He didn’t miss any time, and the play received scant public attention. “I tried to outstretch my arm to get back to the base,’’ he said, “but I didn’t have any momentum. It was more like a flop than a slide.’’

He aggravated it early last May, diving for a foul ball in Houston, the shoulder “locking up” on him. He sat out the next game, appearing only as a pinch hitter, but through a demanding daily regimen of treatment, exercise and anti-inflammatory medication, he continued to play. The shoulder kept getting worse, he said, especially whenever he landed on it, but did not prevent him from hitting 30 home runs for the fourth straight season. And it did not keep him from being as durable as he’s ever been -- he played in 160 games, the fourth straight season in which he has played 160 or more games.

After the season, Gonzalez sought the opinion of three specialists before electing to have surgery, which was performed by Mets orthopedist David Altchek on Oct. 20.

"One of the biggest reasons I wanted surgery is that anti-inflammatory pills in the long run are not good for you,’’ he said. “It was the first time in my career that I was taking two anti-inflammatories every day, so the swelling wouldn’t get to the point it would get locked up again.’’

The Red Sox were reluctant, after trading for Gonzalez, to commit to a long-term extension until they can gauge his health in the spring. He says he is certain that the shoulder will be much stronger, but even if it isn’t, he said he feels like he proved last season he can still be productive with a sore shoulder.

“I already know what it takes to be on the field with that shoulder,’’ he said. “It’s not like with surgery, it’s going to come out worse. It’s only going to come out the same as before surgery or better. [Padres GM] Jed [Hoyer] and all the doctors who saw me were like, ‘You’re only going to get better with this.’ ’’

Gonzalez is doing his rehabilitation at Petco Park, the Padres allowing him to continue the work he began before the trade.

“I’ve started doing a lot of treadmill machine,’’ he said. “Lat pulldowns, low rows, chest stuff, push-ups, a lot of shoulder stuff. I’ve already got full mobility.’’

He said he expects to be able to start swinging a bat around March 1, which would give him a month before the regular-season opener April 1 in Boston.

“I really only need about 10 [exhibition] games,’’ he said. “If I can be in a game by March 20, I should be ready.’’