Since being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August 2012, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has been a perfect model of consistency. In three full seasons with the club, Gonzalez has played at least 156 games, hit at least 22 home runs and driven in at least 90 runs.
This season Gonzalez largely has yet to look his usual self, though. The 34 year old is coming off a four-hit performance against the New York Mets, but Gonzalez’s .422 slugging percentage would be his lowest clip since 2005 when he played 43 games with the Texas Rangers.
Some, perhaps most of that, can be attributed to the lingering back issue Gonzalez suffers from. He aggravated the injury during Spring Training, which stems from a bulging disk in his neck.
Recently from lower back tightness that forced him to miss a stretch of games, Gonzalez received an epidural that he hopes solved the issue, according to Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times:
When Adrian Gonzalez returned to the Dodgers’ lineup last weekend, he stepped on the field without any noticeable discomfort in his lower back for the first time this season. Days earlier, he had received an epidural to treat a pinched nerve. “Hopefully, that corrected the problem,” he said.
Gonzalez explained the difficulty and adverse effects of playing in spite of the pain, which he’s done throughout his career:
“I’ve been that guy that plays through pain my whole career,” he said. “I was like, ‘I can do it.’” But he was compromised. “You take one good swing, then one bad swing, because your back won’t let you,” Gonzalez said. “You get to that point where you’re just like, ‘Let me just take my swing the other way rather than drive the ball.’”
“You take a swing and it hurts,” he said. “Then you go up there and swing with less intensity and that changes your swing.”
In 39 games this season, including the night Gonzalez was removed in the sixth inning, he was batting .282/.362/.408 with six doubles, four home runs and 20 RBIs. Upon returning, he hit .355/.412/.484 with one double, one home run and three RBIs in the first eight games (seven starts) back.
There was a span from May 17-20 where Gonzalez did not start in four consecutive games, failing to appear in the first three. Prior to that, he last missed three straight games in August 2005.
Remarkably, the last time Gonzalez did not appear in four consecutive games was twice in September 2004 after joining the Rangers from the Minor Leagues. He did not start games for the San Diego Padres from May 3-6, 2006, but appeared off the bench in three of the four contests.
Gonzalez didn’t start for the Dodgers from May 3-5, 2013, though entered one game off the bench. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts recently said he is deferring to his veteran first baseman as far as when to give him off days and when to play him.