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Digging deep on Gonzalez

Slugger on lengthy home run drought

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / August 13, 2011

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SEATTLE - Adrian Gonzalez is having a tremendous first season with the Red Sox. But should it be even better?

The first baseman went 2 for 4 in last last night’s 6-4 win over the Mariners to raise his average to .350, the highest mark in the majors. He is second with 92 RBIs and sixth with an on-base percentage of .411.

But Gonzalez has 18 home runs, fewer than what was expected with the switch from expansive Petco Park in San Diego to cozy Fenway Park. Of those 18 home runs, just eight have come at home.

Gonzalez has hit one home run in his last 29 games and three in his previous 192 at-bats.

“I didn’t even know that,’’ said Gonzalez before last night’s game. “That’s not something I really look at. I look at my slugging percentage and that’s normal. If my slugging percentage is good, I’m happy.’’

True enough. Gonzalez has a .553 slugging percentage, well above his career mark of .507 coming into this season.

“If I hit the ball well, right on the barrel, it’s going to go out,’’ Gonzalez said. “If not, if I get a single or a double, it doesn’t bother me. If I go up there trying to hit the ball out, I’m going to make an out.’’

Gonzalez never bought into the theory that Fenway would be a home run park for him because of his opposite-field power. In his mind, the wall may cost him as many home runs as it will give him.

“I’m trying to hit the ball on a line,’’ he said. “I’m not trying to elevate everything.’’

Manager Terry Francona finds the lack of home runs noteworthy but not concerning.

“The good news is he’s such a good hitter that he still finds ways to be really productive. I have a feeling they’ll probably come in bunches again. . . . He’s sitting on 90-something RBIs. I care way more about that.’’

Gonzalez had been dealing with a muscle strain in his neck, an issue Francona thinks might have cut down on his power. Gonzalez also is a good situational hitter, willing to take a sacrifice fly or ground ball to second if that’s what it takes to score a run.

“The nice thing from where I sit is he’s not the all-or-nothing guy,’’ Francona said. “He’s still putting the bat on the ball; he’ll still drive his runs in. He’s just hitting singles right now. He’s fine.’’

Perhaps it’s just a season of statistical anomalies for Gonzalez. While it’s odd that he has one fewer home run than Jacoby Ellsbury, what’s even more unusual is that he has three triples, one more than Ellsbury.

Scratch games Kevin Youkilis and Marco Scutaro were late scratches last night, both sidelined by a stiff back.

Francona put Jed Lowrie at shortstop and Mike Aviles replaced Youkilis at third base. Dustin Pedroia (2 for 4) hit in the cleanup spot in the batting order for the fifth time this season. Lowrie contributed his fourth home run of the season.

Miller bumped again Andrew Miller was tentatively scheduled to start one of the games against the Tampa Bay Rays next week. But those plans have changed.

The Sox will use Jon Lester and Erik Bedard in Tuesday’s doubleheader at Fenway Park, although the order has not been determined. John Lackey will pitch Wednesday.

Miller could start one of the games in Kansas City. That four-game series starts Thursday.

“He’s going to be inserted in there, most likely one of the games against the Royals,’’ said Francona, who is talking it over with pitching coach Curt Young. “We have a bunch of different scenarios.’’

Miller has a 5.40 ERA and 1.92 WHIP since being called up from Triple A Pawtucket in June. He has not started a game since July 31, pitching twice in relief since.

The Sox have good reason not to start Miller against the Rays. He lasted only 2 2/3 innings against Tampa Bay July 15, giving up seven runs on five hits and five walks.

Two of the best Josh Beckett (9-4, 2.17) will oppose Felix Hernandez (10-10, 3.31) tonight in what could be a compelling pitching matchup.

Beckett has allowed just seven earned runs over 34 innings in his last five starts but has won only once. The win came against the Mariners at Fenway Park July 23, when he allowed one run over seven innings and struck out seven.

Hernandez is 4-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 10 career starts against the Sox. He has faced them twice this season, giving up eight earned runs over 13 1/3 innings.

The Red Sox rocked Hernandez July 22 at Fenway, scoring six runs on 11 hits against him.

Drew making strides J.D. Drew was in the outfield running sprints 4 1/2 hours before the game. He then took batting practice on the field for the first time since going on the disabled list last month with a sore left shoulder. He is scheduled to hit on the field again today.

Drew will be re-evaluated when the team returns to Boston. Francona said it was likely the next step would be more hitting as opposed to starting a minor league rehab assignment.

“That seems like the logical thing to do,’’ he said. “We’ll figure out where to go from there.’’

On the decline Seattle star Ichiro Suzuki has had at least 200 hits and batted over .300 for 10 consecutive seasons. But those streaks seem sure to end this season.

Suzuki, 1 for 5 last night with a double, has 130 hits and a .267 average Suzuki also had a .309 on-base percentage, by far the lowest of his career.

Of those 130 hits, just 19 were for extra bases. Suzuki, who turns 38 in October, is signed for $17 million next year.

Jenks to Florida Bobby Jenks reported to the team facility in Fort Myers, Fla., yesterday and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Tuesday. Jenks has not pitched since July 7 because of a back injury. He also was hospitalized with intestinal problems last week. Jenks will throw in the bullpen three times before getting in a simulated game. Then a rehab assignment will be discussed . . . Yankees general manager Brian Cashman does not expect to add any players via waiver trades this month. “What you see is what you’re gonna get,’’ he told reporters in New York. Given the lack of action on the trade front so far, the same could be true for the Red Sox . . . The Aug. 24 game at Texas will be at 7:05 p.m. (Eastern time) instead of 8:05 after being picked up by ESPN2. NESN also has the game . . . Celtics legend Bill Russell and Boston’s mayor Tom Menino visited the Sox before the game.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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