During his pregame media availability on Thursday morning, Alex Cora made the point of saying that Marwin Gonzalez was going to be important to not only what the Red Sox do on the field in 2021, but what they do off the field as well.
Gonzalez made his sixth start of the spring for Boston against the Twins at Hammond Stadium on Thursday afternoon.
Batting out of the two-hole behind fellow newcomer Enrique Hernandez, the soon-to-be 32-year-old switch-hitter showed why he can be a valuable addition for a club with championship aspirations by going 2-for-2 at the plate with a pair of home runs, his first two of the spring.
He also stole a base after getting hit by a pitch in the fourth inning.
In his first at-bat, Gonzalez was matched up with Twins starter Matt Shoemaker, a right-hander, so he naturally hit from the left side of the plate with one out and nobody on in the top half of the first inning.
After watching a first-pitch sinker whiz by his knees for a called first strike, Gonzalez did not waste any more time, as he took an 0-1, 77 mph slider right down Broadway and deposited it 406 feet into the left field seats.
His first big fly of the spring — and in a Red Sox uniform — traveled 406 feet off the bat with an exit velocity of over 107 mph, per Baseball Savant.
Fast forward to the fifth, after the bottom of the Sox lineup had been productive with two outs and Hernandez collected an RBI on a run-scoring single, Gonzalez came to the plate once more, this time matched up against Twins southpaw Devin Smeltzer.
The versatile Venezuelan — hitting right-handed this time around — again watched the first pitch go by for a called strike, then proceeded to foul off a curveball to put himself in a quick 0-2 hole.
The third pitch from Smeltzer was an 87 mph heater at the top of the zone, right around the same area his catcher wanted it.
Despite accurately locating the pitch, Gonzalez was ready for it, as he demolished that fastball from Smeltzer and sent it 372 feet to left field, well far enough for his second home run of the afternoon.
This one was good for three runs and had an exit velocity of 101 mph.
Gonzalez’s day would come to an end a half inning later with Jonathan Arauz replacing him at second, but the damage had already been done considering the fact the former Twin was responsible for four of the five runs the Sox scored in what would turn out to be a 5-4 victory over Minnesota in eight innings on Thursday.
“He’s a good player,” Cora said of Gonzalez following the win. “We always talk about versatility and all that and it’s a good at-bat. It’s a good at-bat from both sides of the plate. He’s been very consistent throughout his career. We’ll play him against lefties and righties whenever we have the chance and whenever we find a matchup that we like, or to protect other guys.”
The Red Sox signed Gonzalez to a one-year, $3 million deal last month with the idea that he can play a plethora of defensive positions given his pedigree as a utility man.
In two seasons with the Twins alone between 2019 and 2020, the 6-foot-1, 205 pounder saw time at every position besides, pitcher, catcher, and centerfield.
“That’s the beauty of this, he can get a lot of at-bats playing at first, playing at second, giving Xander [Bogaerts] an off-day, even [Rafael Devers],” Cora added. “He’s been working hard with [Tim Hyers]. It was a tough year for him last year. In ’19, he hit the ball hard. He was top of the league in hard-hit balls. So, just put him in a good spot physically and just let him play. He enjoys playing the game and I’m happy that he’s with us.”
As previously mentioned, Hernandez had a front row seat to what Gonzalez did on Thursday since he was hitting ahead of him in Boston’s lineup.
The two were signed by the Red Sox over the winter for similar reasons, and Hernandez went into detail about what his versatile counterpart can bring to the table.
“He definitely won the MVP of the day today,” Hernandez said while praising Gonzalez’s performance at the plate. “I don’t think there’s going to be a player in baseball with a better day than he had today. Marwin’s a great player. Everybody knows that.
“Last season, it’s a little hard to dictate on players based off a 60-game season,” added Hernandez. “I would guarantee that he’s going to do better this year than he did last year. Also the fact that he can help us on both sides of the ball. Defensively, his versatility, he’s a plus-defender everywhere he plays. He can run the bases just like he did today. He got a great read on a dirt ball and he took off before the catcher or the infielders knew he was running, and he was able to get an extra 90 feet for us.
That’s going to be huge, especially with our lineup,” he continued. “Everybody can do damage. And a lot of times I feel like in Fenway, being at first, you’re already in scoring position, but the extra 90 feet are always huge.”
Given the versatility both Hernandez and Gonzalez — among other position players — can provide, Cora said the Red Sox could very well begin the 2021 season with 14 pitchers and 12 position players on their Opening Day roster.
“These two guys, and others, they help us to accomplish that,” Cora explained.
(Picture of Marwin Gonzalez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)