PHILADELPHIA -- Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez went deep against Boston’s Junichi Tazawa in early August to become the eighth active player to reach 300 career homers and 400 doubles. Now that Alex Rodriguez has retired, Gonzalez shares that designation with Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre and Miguel Cabrera. It doesn’t take a great leap of faith to think most of those players will wind up in Cooperstown one day.
Aside from the company he keeps, Gonzalez’s most admirable qualities are his reliability and work ethic. He leads the majors with 1,704 games played since 2006, and he has yet to appear on the disabled list in his big league career. As Gonzalez observed in spring training, “I’m a horrible bench guy.”
Grinding it out means enduring criticism, as Gonzalez did during a trying tenure in Boston, and playing through days when the legs are tired or the bat speed isn’t quite there. Gonzalez turned 34 in May, and his meager home run numbers have generated whispers that his best power days are behind him. If the speculation bothers him, he’s not about to admit it.
“I don’t read stuff, so [I don’t notice],” Gonzalez said. “I’m not worried about my statistics or my power or lack thereof. I’m trying to help the team win games. As long as we’re winning games, who cares what the statistics look like?”
The Dodgers are winning. And if the events of Wednesday night are any indication, their middle-of-the-lineup anchor might be due for a statistical upgrade in the weeks to come.
A night after Chase Utley lit up Citizens Bank Park in his return to Philadelphia, Gonzalez went into launch mode. He slugged his 11th and 12th home runs of the season, and the Dodgers beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-2 to extend their lead over the San Francisco Giants to 1½ games in the National League West.
Barring a late power burst, Gonzalez runs the risk of falling short of 20 homers for only the second time in his career. But he’s quietly doing the job in other ways. He’s batting .359 since June 27, and he ranks second to Justin Turner among Dodgers with 62 RBIs. With his two-homer game against Jake Thompson and Edubray Ramos, Gonzalez extended his hitting streak to 10 games.
“I know Adrian’s preparation,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s always had the ability to drive in a run. I think early on he was trying to outthink things in terms of beating the shift. There was a point about five weeks ago where he decided to get the head to the ball and pull the baseball in the air a little bit more. He’s hit some balls well that didn’t go out at home. But a ballpark like this is hitter friendly, and he’s getting rewarded.”
Gonzalez attributes his recent hot streak more to improved health. He received an epidural injection in May to address back pain related to a bulging disc in his neck, and it took several weeks before he felt comfortable enough to fully incorporate his legs into his swing.
“In June, my body started feeling good, and I could get back to figuring out where my stance was, so I could figure out where my swing was,” Gonzalez said. “If you can’t use your backside, you’re hitting off your front leg all the time and you can’t generate power.”
Gonzalez isn’t the only Los Angeles hitter in rake mode of late. In their first 27 games since the All-Star break (not including Wednesday), the Dodgers led the National League with a .280 team batting average and ranked first in the majors in slugging percentage (.470) and runs per game (5.52). Turner, Yasmani Grandal, Howie Kendrick, Joc Pederson and Gonzalez all have helped take the weight off shortstop Corey Seager, the front-runner for NL Rookie of the Year and a possible top-five MVP candidate.
The improved offense is vital when Clayton Kershaw is out with a back injury and Rich Hill is about to become the Dodgers’ 14th starter this season. Scott Kazmir lasted only five innings Wednesday, and the Dodgers needed rookie Grant Dayton to work out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the sixth to preserve a 5-2 lead.
“Honestly, it’s complete frustration,” Kazmir said. “I know what I’m capable of doing. It’s one thing to [pitch] every five days, but it’s another thing to really go out there and get it done and go deep into the ballgame.”
For all their injuries and shortcomings, the Dodgers are on a 46-29 roll since May 21 and looking forward to some more good hitting in Philadelphia and Cincinnati before they head home for a three-game showdown with the Giants on Tuesday.
The pitching staff still needs to develop more consistency. But all those home run trots -- by Turner, Seager and a few of their friends -- have given Roberts the luxury of time to find some answers.