DENVER -- Rockies right fielder Carlos Gonzalez is batting what they call a "soft" .304. How soft? On one of his hits, even Gonzalez laughed at the softness.
On May 2, with the Padres' infield shaded to the right side in hopes of snaring one of Gonzalez's screaming liners to steal a hit, Gonzalez hit a soft grounder down the third-base line. Even the best effort of Padres shortstop Alexei Ramirez couldn't prevent an infield single. Gonzalez found the humor as he jogged to first base.
"I've hit some hard balls that ended up being outs, so I guess that's the payback," Gonzalez said. "I was laughing, saying, 'Easy hit.' I made fun of myself. I've hit some balls 117 mph. That one was, like, 2 mph."
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Of course, he'd like to laugh about towering home runs, which were common last year. Gonzalez finished with 40 home runs in 2015, two fewer than the National League champions, teammate Nolan Arenado and the Nationals' Bryce Harper. But Gonzalez sits at four homers, with none in his past 22 games (two games fewer than his longest single-season drought in '12, and seven fewer than a stretch at the end of '08 into '09), and his 15-game RBI drought is a career worst.
The good news is he has hit in all but seven of his first 33 games, and his 41 hits ranked 16th in the Majors entering Thursday -- not bad for a guy who is out of sync.
"This is baseball," said Gonzalez, who didn't start but had one late-game at-bat in an 8-7 victory over the D-backs Wednesday and is expected in the lineup against the Mets on Friday night. "Sometimes, you're going to go through a little slump. That's how I feel right now. I don't feel too good at the plate, but I'm getting hits once in a while, and I'm surviving. That's not easy to do when you don't feel good, but the good times will come, and we've just got to continue to work."
In many ways, Gonzalez is the same hitter he was last year. He has struggled average-wise against lefty pitching -- .211 with one homer, as opposed to .340 with three homers against righties. Last year, it was .301 and 35 homers vs. righties, and .195 and five homers vs. lefties. The spray chart is essentially the same -- his groundouts are heavily to the right side, but his hits are sprayed all over the park. He's just not hitting as hard.
"He hasn't gone on his home run binge yet, like he can and he will," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "But he's using the whole field, which is a great sign."
Think you've heard this slow-start tale before? Well, you have reason to trust in a happy ending.
Last year, coming off surgery to repair the patellar tendon in his left knee, Gonzalez was hitting .208 through May 27. By season's end, he was up to .271, with the 40 homers, 25 doubles and 97 RBIs.
This year, Gonzalez reports no pain beyond the normal fatigue of appearing in all but one Rockies game. He did suffer some bruises when he flipped into the stands while going for a foul ball in the ninth inning of a 12-10 loss to the Dodgers on April 24.
While insisting he is healthy and fatigue is part of his job, Gonzalez said the eye-popping production will come.
"Right now, I don't feel too good at the plate, but that doesn't mean that I'm not dangerous," Gonzalez said. "Whenever I step to the plate, I always believe that this is the at-bat that I'm going to feel 'back.' I don't know if it's that way for everybody, but it happens to me."