Odd Man Rush: Dodgers set to lean on capable Gonzalez

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – Fans trek to Chavez Ravine to see
Clayton Kershaw dazzle on the mound and Yasiel Puig do, well, Yasiel Puig

But first baseman Adrian Gonzalez put on perhaps the performance of this week
in Los Angeles’ first series of the season.

Gonzalez wasted little time in showing the Dodgers’ offense will be just fine
without the traded Matt Kemp and free agent departee Hanley Ramirez, mashing
five homers over his first three games while driving in seven runs and
going 10-for-13 at the plate.

National League MVP race over?

“Adrian put extra work in during the offseason and it’s paying off,” Dodgers
manager Don Mattingly said.

Gonzalez still has 159 games to go, but his quick start isn’t that much of
surprise. It’s more of good timing. After all, the almost 33-year-old is a
lifetime .293 hitter who mashed 27 homers and drove in 116 runs a season ago.

Los Angeles is built to win it all, but didn’t make it out of the National
League Division Series last season despite a second straight NL West title. New
general manager Andrew Friedman wasn’t afraid to shake things up, dealing Kemp
to the San Diego Padres and letting Ramirez walk via free agency.

It was those new-look Padres who felt the wrath of Gonzalez as he hit three
solo homers and drove in four runs in Wednesday’s 7-4 victory in the rubber
match of a three-game set. In the process, Gonzalez became the first player in
MLB history to record five homers over the first three games of a season.

“Adrian had a big night. He’s locked in right now. It was Adrian’s night,”
noted Padres manager Bud Black.

With Kemp gone, Gonzalez is the main veteran cog of this contending Dodgers
team, joining outfielder Carl Crawford and third baseman Juan Uribe along with
new pickups Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick and Yasmani Grandal.

But L.A. isn’t just in this for the short term. The exit of Kemp puts more
responsibility on the mega-talented Puig and opened up playing time for
outfielder prospect Joc Pederson.

Those are just two players who will benefit from having Gonzalez around.
According to Mattingly, Gonzalez is a complete hitter who isn’t just up there
to homer and strike out.

“Adrian can really hit. He knows what he’s doing out there,” Mattingly said.
“He’s just that guy that understands what they’re doing. He’s a guy that a lot
of our guys can learn from.”

Gonzalez is on an incredible pace, but it’s probably one even he doesn’t
expect to keep up. Not with his own evaluation following Wednesday’s historic

“I’m still not a home run hitter,” Gonzalez insisted to the Dodgers’ official
website. “I just try to hit line drives. If they go over the fence, they go
over the fence.”

It’s that attitude that makes Gonzalez an asset ever since he joined the
Dodgers via a trade with the Boston Red Sox back in August 2012.

“I don’t know really what to say. He’s a constant and he has been since he
came (here). He’s been that guy that you don’t really worry about who plays
pretty much all the time,” Mattingly said. “He gets himself ready and there
really is no maintenance from my standpoint. He’s just one of those guys who’s
easy to manage.”

A 162-game schedule creates its own challenges along the way. The Dodgers are
just happy Gonzalez isn’t one of them.