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Shifting Gonzalez off balance

An interim move to right would be wrong

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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 21, 2011

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The Red Sox have discussed the possibility of Adrian Gonzalez playing the outfield in the upcoming nine-game interleague trip, starting Friday in Pittsburgh.

The Sox would never consider a reporter’s advice, but if asked, this man’s answer would be a resounding, “Don’t do it!’’

The goal, of course, is to get the hot David Ortiz playing time in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Houston. That’s understandable. But baseball players can get injured at any time, doing anything. Gonzalez could get hurt while playing the outfield, just as he could get spiked by a runner at first base or pull a hamstring trying to leg out a triple.

You might be thinking, “C’mon, a professional ballplayer should be able to play the outfield for a game or two.’’ But it’s different when you’ve played just one of 930 career games in the outfield, six years ago. In that game, playing right field for the Rangers on Sept. 30, 2005, Gonzalez committed a throwing error.

It’s always fun to watch players play out of position. Like the time Mike Greenwell had to catch, or the time Jose Canseco pitched. It wasn’t so nice for Jerry Remy, who went from second base to right field during a game in Cleveland and tore up his knee.

OK, it’s a negative way to think, but what’s worse: Holding your breath that Gonzalez might get hurt or having Ortiz sit for up to nine games and pick your spots as a pinch hitter? The second option is the better one.

While Gonzalez made it clear yesterday that he would be willing to move to the outfield, you know he was just being a team player. There’s probably no chance in Hades that Gonzalez wants to patrol right field at PNC Park or Citizens Bank Park or Minute Maid Park.

“I’ve done it before and if I was approached on it and Tito [Francona] wanted to do it for a couple of games, I’d be OK with it,’’ Gonzalez said. “I know I’m not an outfielder and I wasn’t an outfielder, but if it meant to get Papi in the game and get him a few more games, it’s definitely something I would do.’’

Gonzalez is a noble man and he meant what he said.

“I played one game in Texas and I played winter ball [in right field]. I’ll do whatever is needed for the team,’’ he said.

The Red Sox have a lot of offense. More than most teams. Even without Ortiz, they can easily go into a National League ballpark and have a better lineup than the team they’re playing.

National League teams like Philadelphia and San Francisco and Atlanta have an average to below-average offense and win a lot of games with very good pitching.

There’s no question that the Sox are at a disadvantage without the DH. But who would sympathize? You play the schedule.

Using Gonzalez in the outfield and Ortiz at first base would weaken the Sox at two positions. Not the best alternative.

It’s understandable that the Sox probably feel a little short on offense with Carl Crawford and Jed Lowrie on the disabled list. But between pinch hitting and replacing Gonzalez when the Sox have a big lead, Ortiz may get a few more at-bats than first expected.

Nobody wants to break up the offensive mojo the Sox have going right now.

“Everybody knows hitting’s contagious and the last few weeks we’ve been able to do really good things offensively and everybody feeds off of that,’’ Gonzalez said. “And everybody is able to have good approaches. I’ve always said when you’re facing the long relief guy for the fourth, fifth, or sixth inning it’s a lot easier than the setup guy in the eighth. That makes hitting easier as well.’’

There’s obviously great karma with Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, and Ortiz in the middle of the order, another reason you’d even consider such a drastic move.

Gonzalez is also a very experienced first baseman in the NL.

“In the National League you got the pitcher, the bunt situations, and a lot of things like that, so there’s a lot of different aspects in that sense,’’ said Gonzalez. “I was always an aggressive first baseman, which was taken away in the American League here because of the bunt situations.’’

Sometimes it is the little things that win games, not necessarily the big bat.

Take that chance, not the one that puts your best player in peril.

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

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