|ESPN.com: Baseball||[Print without images]|
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox fans got their first look at new first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in game action Saturday afternoon, although if they turned away for a moment, they might have missed his first hit. Gonzalez swung at the first pitch he saw, an above-the-belt fastball from Florida Marlins ace Josh Johnson, and lined a single over the head of shortstop Donnie Murphy and into left-center field.
Just over five months since undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his non-throwing (right) shoulder, Gonzalez , who also hit a sacrifice fly before being lifted after two innings in the Red Sox's 9-2 win, gave notice that he intends to fulfill his forecast of being ready for the April 1 season opener.
"I don't like to get ahead of myself," Gonzalez said, "but one thing I've said all along is that I'd be ready for Opening Day."
While he has asserted that he has not had a timetable all spring, Gonzalez had said last December that if he could play in a game by March 20, that would leave him enough time to be ready for the regular season. He beat that deadline by more than a week as Red Sox trainer Mike Reinold informed manager Terry Francona a couple of days ago that Gonzalez was ready.
Francona refrained from making any announcement in case Gonzalez had any setback in the interim, but when players walked into the clubhouse Saturday morning, the posted lineup card showed Gonzalez batting third and playing first base.
"You'd think after that long wait he'd be a little jumpy, but he was anything but that," Francona said. "A good start. He wanted to stay in, which is also a good thing, but I think we have some time."
After a double by Jacoby Ellsbury and run-scoring infield hit by Dustin Pedroia, Gonzalez stepped into the box against Johnson, who led the National League in ERA last season (2.30) but against whom Gonzalez has had success, batting .364 (4-for-11).
"Josh Johnson is a guy who has a great fastball so you can't give him anything," says Gonzalez, who rests his bat on his shoulder in his setup before getting into hitting position. "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."
He did so in the fashion described by those who watched him perform over the previous five seasons with the San Diego Padres, taking the ball the opposite way with his left-handed swing. Of his 176 hits last season, according to numbers compiled by Baseball-Reference.com, 137 were hit either to left field (49) or up the middle (88). Twenty-one of his 31 home runs also traveled in those directions.
Gonzalez also is not shy about swinging at the first pitch. He hit .375 (30-for-80) when putting the ball in play on the first pitch. The only count in which he put more balls in play was on 2-and-2 pitches, when he had 86 at-bats.
Gonzalez came to the plate with runners on the corners in the second inning and hit a looping liner to center that was caught by a sliding Dewayne Wise. Ellsbury tagged up and scored on the play.
Johnson was pounding Gonzalez inside with fastballs, which Gonzalez has said is the way many pitchers choose to attack him.
"My game plan was to be ready for the fastball," Gonzalez said. "I was going to consciously swing through any off-speed pitch and if he made a good pitch, be ready to recognize it and take it. But I was gearing up for the fastball the entire at-bat."
Gonzalez is scheduled to take Sunday off, then play again Monday night against the Yankees in a game to be televised nationally by ESPN. He said he wasn't concerned about how many at-bats he gets between now and April 1.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "If I see a lot of curveballs and changeups Monday, that will speed the process. For me, it's about being able to see pitches and react to pitches."
One thing he will not do, he said, is dive for any groundballs while in camp. Gonzalez said in a December interview that he originally injured his shoulder diving back into second base on a caught line drive. He aggravated it, he said, diving for groundballs last season with the Padres.
"I'm not diving," he said when asked if he was eager to test his shoulder in that fashion. "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 or to my right."
Red Sox starting pitcher John Lackey tried to accommodate a pregame request from Gonzalez.
"He told me before the game to try to get a groundball on the first guy [Emilio Bonifacio]," Lackey said. "I got to two strikes and tried to go fastball in so he'd hit it over there, but he hit it to Pedey [Pedroia] instead."
The Red Sox lineup Saturday did not include Carl Crawford, who was given Saturday to work out. That will be his schedule Sunday as well, Francona sparing him a bus ride to Bradenton to play the Pirates. Even so, the Red Sox racked up nine runs on 16 hits.
"We're deep," Lackey said. "We've got some really good players hitting in that bottom third of the lineup. It's going to be a fun place to be this year, I think. The starting pitchers, we've been kind of talking about outlasting the other guy, we might run into several wins."Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPN Boston.