After goof, SpongeBob-loving Gonzalez sets up win

May 31st, 2022

CLEVELAND — Franmil Reyes was confident in Spring Training that Oscar Gonzalez was going to be the next big thing to come through Cleveland.

“Remember the name Oscar Gonzalez,” Reyes said at the time. “I’m telling you. He’s got it.”

The odds weren’t necessarily in Gonzalez’s favor, though, since his strikeout rate was through the roof during his Minor League career, and he wasn’t one of the 11 prospects the Guardians added to their 40-man roster over the winter. And with this jigsaw puzzle they’ve created with their roster spots, it seemed difficult to find a way to get him on the roster.

But Gonzalez didn’t give up, and now he’s helping the big league club win games like Monday night’s series-opening 7-3 victory against the Royals at Progressive Field, when he smacked a timely eighth-inning single to set up Andr?s Gim?nez to launch the go-ahead three-run blast.

When the Guardians needed some extra outfield and hitting depth after Reyes landed on the injured list last week, Gonzalez had already put himself in position to be the next-best option. He was hitting .282 with nine homers, eight doubles, two triples, 33 RBIs and an .814 OPS in 41 games with Triple-A Columbus. And following a year in which he struck out 112 times in 121 contests, his 26 K’s in 41 games was at least on a better track.

While four games played is a ridiculously small sample size, Gonzalez has shown glimpses as to how he can be a key contributor to the lineup moving forward, assuming his plate discipline can continue to improve.

For a team that ranks near the bottom in the Majors in hard-hit percentage and exit velocity, Gonzalez’s 97.9 mph average exit velocity through his first few games is certainly a welcomed sight. He has three multihit games in his first four career contests, the first time Cleveland has watched a player do that since Roy Weatherly in 1936. And let’s not forget that he adds a threat of power in a lineup that is largely contact and base-hit oriented.

“He’s been swinging the bat really well, he hits the ball really hard,” Guardians starter Zach Plesac said. “[I’m] going to continue to keep telling him to do what he’s doing.”

As we’ve learned plenty of times this year, Cleveland’s roster is extremely young, meaning growing pains will happen. As much as Gonzalez would have preferred to go more than four games before learning his first lesson, that wasn’t quite the case.

In the sixth inning, Gonzalez had a brief moment of forgetfulness, thinking he made the last out of the inning when he caught Salvador Perez’s fly ball in right field. He harmlessly tossed the ball into the stands, realizing at that moment that there were only two outs. Andrew Benintendi, who was on first base, was awarded two free bases and moved up to third due to the error.

“It was a little bit easier to laugh after Zach [Plesac] picked him up,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said, with a smile. “I just asked him, ‘I haven’t been to Triple-A in a while. Do they make you get three outs there?’

“I think he’s the kind of kid that hopefully he does learn from it, because you need to,” Francona continued. “But nobody wanted to beat him over the head. He’s conscientious enough that he knew that better not happen.”

“[My teammates] were just being funny and having a little laugh about it,” Gonzalez said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero, “but at the same time, they just told me to forget about it, keep going. And that was really important for me.”

These moments are going to continue to happen with the Guardians as their young roster continues to search for its identity. But with youth can come excitement, unpredictability and enthusiasm, all of which can help create a foundation for this club moving forward. All of that can be seen in Gonzalez just through his walk-up song: The theme music from SpongeBob SquarePants.

“[I have that song] because kids love that song and this is a kid’s game after all,” Gonzalez said.

Whether it’s his jovial nature with his walk-up music, his maturity in taking accountability or the potential he displays with his bat, his teammates are convinced that Gonzalez could be the next young player to make a big impact.

“I know the type of player that he is,” Gim?nez said. “I was with him last year in Triple-A, so I know what he can do. And he’s going to help us a lot.”