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Gonzalez Letting It Go In Arizona
by Jack Magruder
PEORIA, Ariz.--Almost 10 months after having right wrist surgery, Adrian Gonzalez' wrist appears right again.
Because of that, the first player taken in the 2000 draft has returned to attack mode at the plate, making an effort to drive the ball to the gaps in the Arizona Fall League after a summer spent nursing his wrist back to health.
Early returns are promising. Gonzalez singled and scored the only run in the Peoria Saguaros' Opening Day victory, then hit a grand slam in the second game of the season before taking two days off to participate in his brother's wedding in Southern California.
"Knowing that my wrist is good, I can go ahead and let it go," said Gonzalez, who had surgery to repair a hairline tear in a wrist tendon in December after being hit by a pitch late in the 2002 season.
"I don't have fear of letting it go. I don't have to baby it even if I am 2-0 (in the count). I got to a point this summer when I started just trying to get base hits up the middle even when I was 2-0, 3-1, in hitting counts.
"Most guys, when they get to those counts, they really let it go and try to drive the ball. I wasn't trying to drive the ball. But it helped me a lot, because it is easy to do that. It's easy to get your base hits up the middle with a 2-0 count. At times, I would see that pitch and think if I was feeling good, I could have really turned on it. It taught me patience in myself this year."
Gonzalez got a late start in spring training because of the surgery and spent the first several weeks of the season in extended spring training. When he finally reported to Triple-A Albuquerque, he hit .216-1-18 in 139 at-bats before being sent to Double-A Carolina in late May.
"My wrist was just stiff and very painful," he said. "Every time I took a swing I felt something crackle in there, scar tissue. Just knowing that your wrist isn't good, you kind of baby it. You don't want to let go."
Gonzalez changed his approach in the Southern League. Instead of trying to turn on balls, he just tried to line singles back through the middle. It worked as he hit .307-1-16 in 137 at-bats.
"I said I'm just going to put the bat on the ball, even if my bat speed was not 100 percent," he said. "At least I'll get some hits and hit for average and not worry about the home runs. I started doing that and my average came around, but I didn't have power numbers or anything."
Just as Gonzalez started to get comfortable with his wrist and his Mudcats teammates, he was sent to the Rangers on July 11 along with Ryan Snare and Will Smith in the Ugueth Urbina deal. Gonzalez said the trade didn't surprise him, because he had heard his name mentioned as far back as the winter meetings in potential deals with the Expos and Red Sox. The Marlins had first baseman in the system in Jason Stokes, who scouts feel will produce more power than Gonzalez. In a unique twist of fate, both first basemen are playing for the Saguaros this fall.
"I had no idea the Rangers were interested, but once I got there it was great. I love the organization. I feel comfortable here. I feel I can go out and do my thing," said Gonzalez, a Chula Vista, Calif., native who bought a house in South Florida with part of the $3 million signing bonus the Marlins gave him. "And I was happy about it, too, because I didn't really like that organization."
The Rangers sent him to their Double-A affiliate in Frisco, where he finished the season hitting .283-3-17 in 173 at-bats.
"Little by little (I) started feeling better, and I felt better towards the end of the year," Gonzalez said. "The five, six days we had off before coming out here (to Arizona) was big for me, as far as getting my feel back. I think it helped an awful lot, because when I got here I had no pain. It didn't fatigue like it used to. They say it takes a year. We're going on 11 months, and it feels good now."
Saguaros manager Frank Kremblas managed the Brewers' Southern League affiliate in Huntsville and has been both sides of Gonzalez.
"You could tell a little bit over the summer. He looked slow at the plate a little bit, but he still got hits," Kremblas said. "Down here, he looks much stronger. Now it looks completely healed and strong, ready to go. He's swinging it well. It looks like there's no pain or residue of any kind of stiffness that comes with those kinds of injuries at all.
"He has a very professional approach in his offensive side and his defensive side. He looks like a very good defensive first baseman, not only fielding but around the bag. He has pretty good instincts defensively, it seems like. To me, I think he's ready for the big leagues right now."
• Mesa Desert Dogs first baseman Dan Johnson (Athletics) had eight hits and eight RBIs in his first 16 at-bats. Johnson, a seventh-round pick out of Nebraska in 2001, hit .290-27-114 for Double-A Midland before playing one game with Triple-A Sacramento over the summer.
• Desert Dogs outfielder Rich Thompson (Pirates) had three stolen bases in his first two games. He stole 48 bases in three stops over the summer, including 22 with Triple-A Nashville after the Pirates acquired him from the Blue Jays for righthander John Wasdin on July 8.
• Scottsdale catcher Dane Sardinha (Reds) had the first two-homer game of the league season with a pair of solo homers Friday. Sardinha, in his second year in the Fall League, hit .256-3-32 at Double-A Chattanooga before joining the major league roster as a September callup.
• The Mesa Solar Sox had a five-pitcher two-hitter in a 5-0 victory over Grand Canyon on Saturday, with Dewon Brazelton (Devil Rays) striking out three in three scoreless innings to get the victory.
• Gonzalez is one of 31 first-round draftees on Opening Day Fall League rosters. There are seven first-round picks from the 2002 draft: Javelinas infielder Russ Adams (Blue Jays), Saguaros shortstop Khalil Greene (Padres) and reliever Royce Ring (Mets), Scottsdale first baseman James Loney (Dodgers) and shortstop Sergio Santos (Diamondbacks), Desert Dogs outfielder Nick Swisher (A's) and Solar Sox shortstop B.J. Upton (Devil Rays).