GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez appeared in 156 of a possible 162 games in 2015. By most players’ standards, that’s a full season’s work. In light of Gonzalez’s resume, it bordered on a vacation.
Since the 2007 season, Gonzalez has appeared in 1,433 games -- tied with Robinson Cano for most in the majors. Those six games he missed last year were his highest total since he was a mere pup with the San Diego Padres in 2006.
Gonzalez is a good and a bad problem for a manager to have: Good because he’ll play through nagging injuries and bring stability to the middle of the batting order on a daily basis. Bad because it’s a challenge telling him it's his day to sit.
“The last couple of years with (Don) Mattingly, he would tell me I wasn’t playing, and it got to a point where I stopped fighting him and said ‘OK,’" Gonzalez said. “I’m a guy who likes to be out there every day. I’m a horrible bench guy."
Gonzalez, who turns 34 in May, gave the Dodgers his typically strong production in 2015. He hit 28 homers, drove in 90 runs, made his fifth career All-Star Game and ranked sixth among MLB first basemen with a 3.9 wins above replacement.
But his production tailed off in the second half in contrast to his overall career profile. In 89 games before the All-Star break, Gonzalez hit .283 with a .355 on-base percentage and a .520 slugging percentage. In 67 games after the break, that slash line dipped to .264/.344/.427.
“Every year is different," Gonzalez said. “I’ve had great Aprils and horrible Aprils, great Septembers and bad Septembers. There’s no reason to break it down. You have to look at each season as a whole."
Dave Roberts, in his first year as Dodgers manager, has multiple options on the roster if he wants to give Gonzalez the occasional rest this season. Justin Turner, Yasmani Grandal and Chase Utley all know their way around the first-base bag. Scott Van Slyke, Los Angeles’ main backup at the position, has a career .858 OPS against left-handers, so he’s a natural choice if an elite lefty is on the mound for the opposition on a given night.
Giants ace Madison Bumgarner is one pitcher who could prompt Roberts to go to his bench and save Gonzalez for pinch-hitting duties. Gonzalez has a .143/.182/.190 career slash line vs. MadBum, with no home runs and only two extra-base hits in 42 career at-bats.
“As a manager or coach, when you get a guy like Adrian who posts every day, you have a tendency to take it for granted," Roberts said. “It’s important to keep that communication open. A lot of times as a manager, you want to defer to a player of that status on how he feels. It’s hard for a player, though, to say he doesn’t want to play or can’t play. So it’s my job at times -- if I see he needs a blow -- to take it out of his hands."
Gonzalez has played through his share of calf strains and leg injuries through the years, because speed is so incidental to his game and he knows his presence in the lineup might help alter the equation on a given night. If the opposing pitcher is unaware he’s subpar physically and pitches around him or walks him, it could provide better opportunities for the other hitters in the Dodgers' lineup.
At some point this season, Gonzalez and Roberts might sit down and develop a concrete plan on how to approach rest breaks. Gonzalez hopes and expects they will be few.
“The arrangement I like is, I’ll tell you when I can’t play," Gonzalez said. “If I’m telling you I can’t play, I can’t play."