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CLEVELAND — The Guardians are starting to see what the next few years may look like, with so many of their young prospects finally getting a shot at the big league level. And so far, they’ve had every reason to enjoy the glimpse into the crystal ball.
Yet again, the young bats carried Cleveland to a victory, as Oscar Gonzalez led the way with his first career four-hit performance. Steven Kwan broke out of his skid with a three-hit night, and Andr?s Gim?nez was responsible for the go-ahead run in the eighth that led to the Guardians’ 8-4 win over the A’s in the series opener at Progressive Field on Thursday night.
“Nights like this are fun to watch, their youthful enthusiasm and not backing down,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “All the things we want to live by. Yeah, you get proud.”
Youth brings plenty of mistakes and growing pains, but taking a chance on younger players has allowed the organization to see the raw talent that it can develop to create a solid foundation for the future. One pillar of that foundation who no one was sure could withstand much weight was Gonzalez. But so far, he’s proven that he deserves a chance to write himself into the Guardians’ plans.
There was hesitancy in bringing Gonzalez up to the big leagues. He’s been able to hit at every level in the Minors; the only problem was his overly aggressive approach at the plate, to the point that the Guardians were concerned about how it would translate at the Major League level. In 2021, he recorded 112 strikeouts in 121 games between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. But when the Guardians needed another body after Franmil Reyes landed on the IL, Gonzalez was the only logical choice.
“We kind of told him, ‘Hey, don’t worry about walking,'” Francona said. “‘Just try to see how many good swings you can get at good pitches.’ Because he has bat speed, he can hit the ball the other way, he’s not like a lot of young right-handed power hitters. He doesn’t pull off very much. He stays through the ball and hits the ball to right field. He’s just ultra-aggressive. If he stays in the zone, he’s going to do some damage.”
So far, he’s stayed in the zone. In his first few games, it seemed like beginner’s luck that he continually ran into hits. But now that he’s 13 contests into his big league career (albeit still a small sample size), it’s starting to seem like he’s maturing at the plate rather than simply getting lucky. Gonzalez has recorded at least one hit in 12 of his 13 games. He and Roger Maris are the only players in Cleveland history to record a hit in 12 of their first 13 games.
“This is what I’ve been thinking about since I was a kid,” Gonzalez said, through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “I’ve prepared for this. I just pray to God to be helped to play the best that I can every day out there.”
Seven of those 12 contests have been multi-hit efforts, tying him with Dale Mitchell, Roy Weatherly and Bob Seeds for the second-most such performances in the first 13 games of a career in club history, behind only Mark Lewis (1991) and Joe Vosmik (1930-’31), each with eight.
“It’s been awesome,” Kwan said. “He’s obviously a great teammate, a great person in general. He always has a lot of fun. He’s a great hitter. I’m glad it’s translating and I’m glad he’s keeping it rolling.”
Even though he’s known for his power, Gonzalez has yet to launch his first big league homer. All of his contributions have come from singles and doubles, and his four hits on Thursday raise his average to a whopping .404. He had a brief scare in the top of the eighth when he rammed into the right-field wall while tracking down a fly ball. But after he was slow to get up, he came back in the bottom half of the frame to spark a four-run inning with a leadoff single.
In just 13 games, the Guardians have seen growth in his plate discipline, improvement in his defense and his desire to find ways to win every single night.
“I played with him pretty much every level coming up,” Guardians infielder Ernie Clement said. “So to see his growth and maturity, it’s amazing, because when I first met him, he was just a young kid from the [Dominican Republic]. He’s still an amazing hitter. He always was. But the other facets of his game are coming along, and it’s really exciting because he’s gonna be one hell of a player.”