It cannot be easy, but the Red Sox should resist the temptation to send their slugging first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez, to right field during the upcoming slate of interleague games in National League parks.
While admirable that Gonzalez would offer up his services in order for David Ortiz to play first base and keep the optimal lineup in play, it opens up Pandora's box. If somehow Gonzalez, who has played one game in the outfield in his career (in 2005!) got through the outings unscathed, some good could come of it. If somehow he didn't, it would be bad, bad, bad.
In Gonzalez, the Red Sox don't have a good thing. They have a great thing. There is no need to risk an injury to your best offensive player just so you can maximize the roster for nine games. Sure, give Gonzalez a day off or two and use Ortiz at first, perhaps in some of the three day games after night games. Do not put Gonzalez in a situation where he can slam into a wall, pull a hammy or roll a wrist trying to make a sliding grab.
It would be akin to parking your mint condition '55 T-Bird under a tree so that you can fit a bunch of Toyotas in the rest of the lot. The moment a bird in that tree poops, you've tainted your prized possession.
Terry Francona would never take a team lightly. A major league opponent is a major league opponent, and his team needs to be prepared for whichever one is on the schedule that day. With that said, the Red Sox could take both Gonzalez and Ortiz out of the lineup and still sport a better attack than Pittsburgh and Houston, the first and last stops of their trip. The same cannot be said for Philadelphia, but you take your chances. Boston has the best offense in baseball. One way to maintain that for the rest of the year is to not get too overzealous and try to go mano a mano with the NL's best team.
As it is, Philadelphia may pitch Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in the series. That's two tough lefties that might open up a great opportunity to sit Ortiz anyway.
Gonzalez plays almost every game of every year. While he might tell you otherwise, there's something to be said for getting one or two days of rest. In 2006, when he sat roughly midway through the year, he returned to bat .381 (16-for-42) with three home runs and four doubles in 11 games. Later that season, he got another little break, only to come back to the lineup and go 35-for-87 (.403) down the stretch.
In 2009, Gonzalez got his break around the 100-game mark. He returned the lineup to go 31-for-78 (.397) with six homers in a 20-game stretch. Last year, Gonzalez missed his only two games right around this time of year. The next eight games upon his comeback saw him go 13-for-30 (.433) with four home runs and eight RBIs.
Get Ortiz in there once, twice, or maybe even three times. Give Gonzalez a small break. In either case, you have a phenomenal hitting first baseman and an incredible weapon off the bench late in games. While the Pirates will make sure Matt Diaz is ready to pinch hit, the Red Sox will be able to turn to David Ortiz. That dramatically alters the way an opposing manager maps it out. And if you choose to sit Gonzalez once or twice, there's your late-game defensive replacement.
Boston could turn a presumed weakness — its inability to utilize a complete lineup — into a strength late in games.
This is the proverbial "good problem" to have. Any team would love to choose between the major league leader in batting and RBIs and a guy just trailing him in those categories, or to be forced to mix and match the two for a tiny portion of the schedule. You don't need to force the issue in order to keep the status quo.
If you do, you might regret it.
Should the Red Sox use Adrian Gonzalez in right field in National League parks? Leave your thoughts below.
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