PHOENIX — Adrian Gonzalez has played in at least 156 games for each of the past 11 years. That streak is in jeopardy of ending in 2017.
No, not because of the right elbow inflammation that currently has the Dodgers first baseman sidelined at the start of spring training. That injury isn’t expected to linger into the regular season, and he is shut down for swinging a bat now more as a precaution in getting ready for said campaign.
It’s more by design. The Dodgers have the roster depth to rest players, and they are planning for a seven-month season rather than six months.
“It is important for Adrian to play 150-plus games, and I respect that,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It's a conversation to curtail the number of games, because we're expecting to play deep into October, and we need him as fresh as possible. Also it benefits the other players. It's not just Adrian, it's across the board.”’
Gonzalez is one of just three players in baseball to play in at least 150 games in each of the last five seasons, along with Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. And Gonzalez’s streak goes back 11 seasons, back to his first full season with the Padres (2006).
"Adrian has been a guy who has pretty much posted everyday throughout his entire career,” Roberts said. “But with the depth that we have, and he's a year older, though obviously he takes very good care of himself, it's more of curtailing some at-bats.
"There's going to be times where I'm going to give him some days off to get other guys in there to keep him as fresh as possible.”
Last season, Gonzalez took himself out of the lineup for two days in Pittsburgh (June 26-27) to work on a mechanical issue with his swing. He still ended up playing and batting in both games, but the time off helped. He hit .304/.361/.492 for the remainder of the season, with 20 doubles and 12 home runs in 78 games.
"Whether it was the time off that gave him time to think through mechanics maybe speaks to that,” Roberts said. “He had time before the game and batting practice to work through things and not have to work through that night's game.
"Something clicked in one of his pinch-hit at-bats, and that propelled him going forward.”
It is important to note that this talk of getting Gonzalez more time off doesn’t mean the Dodgers are going to institute a platoon at first base. Gonzalez isn’t going to all of a sudden start just 120 games in 2017 after never starting fewer than 148 games in any of his last 11 seasons. This is more about getting him an extra few days here and there to help his overall production, and keep him fresh for the postseason.
That said, when Gonzalez does get his days off, it would behoove the Dodgers to strategically make them against southpaws. Gonzalez in 2016 hit .244/.293/.310 against left-handers, and in the last three seasons combined has hit .247/.300/.357 against them.
“You want to give him a day against a left-hander. Throughout Adrian's career, and any left-hander's career, the production falls of a little bit left-on-left,” Roberts said. “You might as well get a guy in there whose production against left-handers lines up.”
That makes things interesting when constructing the Dodgers bench. Franklin Gutierrez figures to start in the outfield against lefties, and has never played first base. It’s not something Roberts has even talked to Gutierrez about.
What about catcher Yasmani Grandal, a switch-hitter?
"I don't see Yasmani [at first base],” Roberts said.
Justin Turner is the Dodgers’ third baseman, but has played every infield position in his career, and it didn’t sound like Roberts wanted him to move around the infield too much, if at all.
"We prefer him at third base, but JT's a baseball player. He's open to anything,” Roberts said. “As of today we haven't talked about it.”
There is also the option of having Logan Forsythe move from second base to first base on occasion, but he already figures to see time at third base when Turner rests, and there is the risk of spreading Forsythe too thin.
All of this is a long way of saying there is a definite spot for the taking on the bench for a right-handed hitter who can play first base, among other things. Scott Van Slyke or Rob Segedin, come on down.