Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Alberto Gonzalez has filled in admirably around the infield when called upon.
It's at times like this that I truly wish I had taken more Spanish in college. It's never fair that Spanish-speaking ballplayers get less press than those who speak English, and I wouldn't be surprised if Alberto has some very interesting things to say and has a story worth telling. Unfortunately, when Gonzalez does have a game like he did last night, we're left to conduct an awkward interview that surely doesn't give this player the chance to enjoy his moment in the spotlight as much as he deserves.
Here, though, is the quote from Gonzalez that best describes his emotions after what may have been the best game of his career: "I'm so happy. I'm happy to play three days in a row."
Indeed, the mere fact Jim Riggleman penciled his name in the lineup on three consecutive days was reason for Gonzalez to rejoice. This is a guy, after all, who had started only eight of the Nats' first 75 games this season (five of them during an April stretch when Ryan Zimmerman was battling hamstring injuries). So three straight starts (two at shortstop, one at second base) were noteworthy in themselves.
Those first two starts, though, didn't exactly go well for Gonzalez. He went 0-for-6 with four strikeouts, three of those K's coming Monday night, one of them a crucial whiff against Tim Hudson with the tying run on third and one out in the seventh inning of a scoreless game.
After last night's 4-for-4 performance, Riggleman seemed upset at himself for letting Gonzalez get so stale on the bench in previous weeks that he had little chance of succeeding in that game against Hudson.
"If I had not let him sit as long as he had, he probably would have had a better chance in that at-bat last night," the manager said. "He probably would have had contact [which would have probably brought the go-ahead run home]."
Gonzalez seemed to feel the same way, saying his big night yesterday was a product of increased playing time.
"I see more pitches and more at-bats," he said. "That's good for me."
So now Riggleman faces a real dilemma tonight: Keep Gonzalez in the lineup, hoping to ride that 4-hit performance, or put him back on the bench and get regulars Ian Desmond and Cristian Guzman back in the fold?
There's no right answer. Desmond is this team's starting shortstop, and to sit him back-to-back days in the wake of that costly error the other night might do him more harm than good. Guzman reached base three times last night out of the 7-hole and probably deserves to be in there again. All the while, Adam Kennedy finds himself in a similar situation to Gonzalez: Spending more time on the bench than in the lineup, and probably suffering from the lack of consistent playing time.
Riggleman wasn't initially planning to give Gonzalez a fourth straight start, but after last night's performance, "I've got to think about it."
Before everyone gets completely ga-ga over Gonzo, let's remember this is a career .255 hitter in the big leagues, with a .298 on-base percentage and a .638 OPS that is about 80 points worse than Nyjer Morgan's career mark. Gonzalez is a nice guy to bring off the bench every once in a while, but he's not an everyday player in the big leagues.
Everybody, though, deserves their moment in the spotlight. And that moment came last night for Gonzalez.
He might not have been able to express his joy in words you or I could understand, but that wasn't necessary. The smile on his face as reporters approached him for his first postgame interview in a long time told the whole story.