Gonzalez brings stability in RF for Guardians

6:27 AM UTC

SAN DIEGO — The Guardians have had a top American League Rookie of the Year Award candidate from the moment they took the field on Opening Day, as Steven Kwan emerged as a throwback player with exceptional bat-to-ball skills.

Months later, the Guardians are in the midst of their postseason push, and another rookie has announced himself as Major League ready. Oscar Gonzalez is producing consistently, adding lineup depth and stabilizing right field while helping Cleveland maintain its perch atop the AL Central.

Gonzalez attacked the first pitch he saw Tuesday night and sent it flying into the left-field seats at Petco Park to open the scoring in the Guardians’ 3-1 victory over the Padres. It was a solo home run, but it gave Cleveland a lead it never relinquished as San Diego’s offense, already struggling of late, was without Juan Soto after he was a lineup scratch with back tightness.

Gonzalez smacked a hanging slider from former Cleveland pitcher Mike Clevinger at an exit velocity of 103.3 mph, per Statcast, to record his fourth homer and continue his August surge. After missing July with a right rib cage muscle strain, Gonzalez has posted a .343/.361/.543 slash line this month.

“Regardless of the result the night before, I get myself ready to play every day,” Gonzalez said through an interpreter. “This is what I love doing. This is my mindset every day — to come and win games.”

Gonzalez, 24, has started in right field for 17 of the Guardians’ 20 games in August, putting a full stop on the revolving door at the position. Manager Terry Francona has penciled in eight right fielders this year. Now, it’s pretty much “Gonzalez” and forget about it. With Gonzalez taking over the position in August, Cleveland has gone 13-7 and built a season-high three-game cushion in the AL Central.

“He’s hitting .300. He’s doing pretty well,” Francona said. “You’re seeing what I’m seeing. He’s playing good baseball. He’s playing a good right field. He’s hustling, hitting an occasional home run and hitting .300. Doing a good job.”

Francona noted Gonzalez’s ability with two strikes belied his rookie status. Indeed, Gonzalez is batting .255 with two strikes against him — second on the club behind fellow rookie Kwan (.258). But Francona certainly didn’t mind seeing Gonzalez go after Clevinger’s first-pitch breaking ball.

“He’s a strong kid,” Francona said. “He’s ultra-aggressive. If he stays in the strike zone, he’s going to be OK. We know he’s not going to walk. That’s OK. As long as he swings at strikes, he’s going to be OK.”

Andr?s Gim?nez matched Gonzalez with a solo homer off Clevinger in the fifth inning, turning on a 94.7 mph fastball and sending it 396 feet to right field with an 106.1 mph exit velocity. Guardians starter Aaron Civale gave back a run in the bottom of the fifth and was done after 4 2/3 innings, but the bullpen remained stout. Nick Sandlin, James Karinchak, Trevor Stephan and Emmanuel Clase combined for 4 1/3 scoreless innings, with Clase earning his 29th save to tie for the MLB lead.

Six of Clase’s 10 pitches in a 1-2-3 inning clocked in at 100 mph or faster, including a 101.7 mph cutter to Jurickson Profar.

Jos? Ram?rez reached 100 RBIs for the third time in his career, providing an insurance run with an eighth-inning single. The 29-year-old third baseman is one of the veteran influences on Gonzalez.

“I take every opportunity to talk to Jos? and the others with more experience who understand how the game should be played,” Gonzalez said. “That has helped me a lot.”

And that, in turn, has helped the Guardians.