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Gonzalez comments go deep

By Nick Cafardo
June 16, 2011

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Not since Mo Vaughn has a Red Sox player shown more intelligence about his craft and his outside world than Adrian Gonzalez.

It seems the first baseman has an answer for every topic he is approached with, one that he’s thought about and dissected. He is rarely caught off guard, and there’s a lot going on in his head — not only about hitting, which he’s doing about as well as anyone in Major League Baseball at the moment, but about his life away from the game. Boston has been an adjustment for the San Diego-area native, but he’s adapting and those around him are adjusting to him.

Gonzalez, who went 0 for 3 in last night’s 3-0 win over the Rays, entered as the major leagues’ top hitter (.347) and RBI man (60) and was first in doubles (22). He also led the American League in hits (94), total bases (159), and multi-hit games (29). He also has taken over the lead in the AL All-Star voting for first basemen with 2,027,537 votes, leading New York’s Mark Teixeira (1,774,024).

Vaughn, of course, had monster seasons with the Red Sox, capturing the 1995 American League MVP award. Vaughn was one of the more thoughtful players in recent Sox memory in terms of providing in-depth answers to questions and strong opinions on issues involving him personally and baseball in general.

Before last night’s Red Sox-Rays game, we talked with Gonzalez about a few subjects, including the differences between the AL and the NL.

“Pretty much the same,’’ he said. “I don’t think this division [AL East] is any tougher than the NL West. I know they talk it up to be. The AL East is very competitive and the hitting over here is a lot better. I think if you had to go up and down each team, you have more hitters here, but there’s more talented pitching in the NL West. But when you put in the hitters here, it’s evened out. In this division you have more veteran pitchers who are brought in at the end of their careers.

“The bullpens in general are better in the NL West. Overall there’s better pitching over there because of the ballparks. That has a lot to do with it. There are balls I’ve hit close to being homers or doubles in the NL West that are outs there, that are doubles or homers here. That has a lot to do with the pitching and the confidence the pitchers have over there. As a hitter here, you feel good when you hit a ball and it ends up being good for you rather than being an out.’’

He was asked the difference between being with the Padres, who were last season’s Cinderella story, and the Red Sox, who entered this season with so many expectations.

“In San Diego we knew we had a really good, talented squad where the pitching took us to the playoffs if we made it,’’ he said. “This is an all-around team where we have a lot of good hitting, pitching, and bullpen. This feels like a team where we know all we need to do is get into the playoffs, and if we do, we have a really good chance to make it deep into the playoffs.’’

Gonzalez had shoulder surgery in the offseason. Has that limited him at all?

“I have zero limitations now,’’ he said. “Offensively, I had to go to a lighter bat so I didn’t have quite the extension I have now. Now I’m back to the bat I used two years ago against righties, which is a 35/33. I use the same bat I used last year against lefties. There’s only a half-inch difference, but it’s a big difference when you’re trying to get a little more coverage of the plate, dropping the barrel more against righties.

“Defensively, I learned a lot last year about positioning myself, which I’ve been able to apply this year. I can put myself in a better position so I don’t have to dive as much, but when put in that position, I’m able to dive for balls and now I’m doing it without thinking about it. The positioning is the big thing because I think with my experience now it seems the more time you’ve put into the game the more the coaches and managers let you do things outside the scouting report. Now, if I say I’d like to cheat a couple of steps one way or the other, they let me do it because they trust that I’m basing it on my instincts that I’ve acquired through experience.’’

Gonzalez didn’t seem to struggle off the bat with his new team, unlike its other offseason pickup, Carl Crawford.

“By struggling you’re talking about stats and I don’t look at stats,’’ he said. “I could care less about stats. All I care about is whether we win. I could have a good day and we lose. My concern is not how I do, but how the team does.

“People tell me that’s great you got three hits [Tuesday night], but so what? We lost. In fact, I wondered whether I could have swung at a different pitch and hit a home run rather than had a single. I don’t care about what my stats are. All I care about is my attitude toward God. It’s not about me or my personal stats. It’s just about helping the team win and having a good attitude toward Christ.’’

Gonzalez was asked how it has been getting used to a new set of teammates.

“You build new relationships,’’ he said. “I was with those guys in San Diego, some of them three, four, five years. I still talk to them. You get to know the person and the families. Over the next few years I hope to build the same relationships. The first year, you start from scratch. It’s like any type of friendship — you build it from the bottom up. There’s a great group of guys here.’’

His faith is important to Gonzalez.

“We have a lot of fellowship and Bible study groups on the road so guys come and get to talk and hang out,’’ he said. “Those are the guys I’m going to build the best relationships with, but I’m also going to build a relationship with guys who don’t [attend].’’

He was asked if the Sox are a big Christian team, and said, “Not necessarily. Little bit. That’s my goal. That’s something I come into the season looking forward to. It happened in San Diego, where we had a lot of guys who took part in our Bible group. And that grew over time. I’m hoping that happens here and it’s been growing here.’’

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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