It's just after 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon, and Adrian Gonzalez is sitting in a back room in the Citizens Bank Park visitors clubhouse, staring at one of four laptop computers queued up for any and all Red Sox players. The early bus from the team hotel had brought over the Sox first baseman, along with a smattering of his teammates and coaches, all of whom are looking to get a jump-start on their day.
The night before, Gonzalez had seen a total of 12 pitches, one of which he hit for his first home run in 109 at-bats. Twelve pitches, 12 thought processes, 12 games within one, single game.
He had started that day in the same place he found himself Saturday afternoon, in front of those computers. He would focus on his history with Phillies starter Cole Hamels, looking at what the lefty had thrown him in years past. Pitch-type. Counts. Numbers. Video. It was a wave of information at Gonzalez' fingertips thanks to the team's extensive program allowing all the hitters to digest any and all information involving their opponents and themselves.
"I know Cole," Gonzalez said, "but …"
The idea is to enter each at-bat with some level of comfort. As Gonzalez dove into the three-game series against the Phillies, it was less about what he left behind in St. Petersburg, Fla., against the Rays (0-for-7, one hit-by-pitch) and more about what was waiting for him in Philly, starting with a pitcher he had previously faced 27 times.
"I know just by looking at this he has thrown me 70 percent fastballs, 14 percent changeups, 12 percent cutters and 4 percent curveballs," Gonzalez noted. "Pitches in, 80 percent fastballs. Away? Fifty percent fastballs away. Then I can just watch him. I already know going into the first at-bat he likes to start me in and set up the changeup. If he gets me thinking in, I'm more prone to chasing a changeup down and letting a fastball away go."
And so it began.
Gonzalez had experienced moderate success against Hamels, totaling nine hits, including two home runs. But this year he was still trying to find his way, to a certain degree. The lefty slugger came into his team's three-game set against the Phillies hitting .273 with an OPS of .756 and two home runs. At the same time a year ago, his batting average was .327 with an OPS of .966 to go along with nine homers.
As he explained it, "I went through a good span where I was seeing the ball really good and walking, wasn't chasing a lot of balls out of the zone. I was just missing pitches I should have put in play. But earlier in the year I was swinging at pitches I shouldn't have swung at."
Despite the downturn against the Rays, things had been looking up of late for Gonzalez, who came into Philadelphia hitting .310 with an .850 OPS over his previous 14 games.
But, as the digestion of information in that tiny, computer-filled back room might suggest, little was going to be left to chance. It was going to much more than one game at a time, or even one at-bat at a time. Each pitch was going to be afforded a game plan.
Situation: First inning, one out, man on second, Hamels pitching.
"So, when I come up with a runner on second and one out, I'm thinking look for a fastball middle-in because that's where he's probably going to start me off," Gonzalez explained. "He doesn't want to start me away because if he gives me a good pitch and misses over the plate, I'm going to be able to take advantage of it. But at the same time, I'm looking to hit the ball up the middle. I'm not trying to pull a fastball.
"I'm trying to keep my sights middle, but lay off anything away because I don't want it to be a cutter away. I'm trying to lay off anything middle-away because it could be a cutter or a curveball and I don't want to be chasing. And if it's a changeup, I'm OK if I swing through it."
Other than David Ortiz, Gonzalez swung at a higher percentage of first pitches than any other Red Sox regular last season (28 percent), and is executing the act even more frequently this year, offering at the initial pitch 35 percent of the time. But when he does pull the trigger, there is a plan behind it, as was the case in his first at-bat with Hamels.
He gets the pitch he wants -- a 92 mph fastball slightly in but certainly a strike. Yet, even with all the preparation and history involving Hamels, the pitcher is a deceptive lefty Gonzalez hasn't faced since last June 30. The hitter's execution is just a bit off, leading to a weak fly ball in foul ground to left field.
"He pitches the pitch I'm looking for, but I was just a little bit late timing-wise," Gonzalez said. "Just timing. It happens."
Situation: Third inning, two outs, bases empty, Hamels pitching, Red Sox trailing, 4-1.
"The first at-bat I swung at the first pitch so I'm telling myself to see a pitch, get the pitch count up more than anything," Gonzalez said.
First pitch: "He throws me a fastball away for a strike. I was taking. Hopefully he falls behind and I can look for something up that I can drive."
Second pitch: "He throws me a fastball in and I recognized it well and just took it."
Third pitch: "I was looking for a fastball middle-away and up, and for some reason I went to it and I shouldn't have swung at it. The ball is clearly in. I took a good path, but it was too far in. It probably should have been ball three. At the end of the day you can chalk it up as a pitch I shouldn't have swung at. I saw fastball and I went to it. If that pitch is over the plate I get barrel and I probably get a single rather than a broken-bat one-hopper to the second baseman, because I actually took a good path to it."
It's the kind of at-bat, and pitch, that defines slumps. Swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, Gonzalez is hitting just .153. In the strike zone, his average is .340. He's asked, "When you're going bad, is that the type of pitch you swing at?"
"Yes," Gonzalez admitted.
Situation: Sixth inning, nobody out, bases empty, Hamels pitching, Red Sox trailing, 5-2.
"I'm leading off an inning, trying to work the count, trying to get into a rhythm and trying to get into a good hitter's count," Gonzalez said.
"He threw me a first-pitch changeup in. Ball one. Second pitch he went with that cutter away and missed. That's the pitch that most of the day I don't want to chase because I'll hit it off the end of the bat. It's a good pitch. It looks like a strike away and kind of darts at the end. That's the reason for him I'm always looking middle instead of away, because if you're looking middle that cutter will end up a strike instead of looking away where it will end up as a ball."
Hamels misses with a fastball down on his third pitch to move the count to 3-0. Just eight times in his entire career Gonzalez has put a 3-0 pitch in play, coming away with one single. He will be not swinging this time.
"On 3-0, I'm taking," the hitter said. "In a 5-2 game, down three runs, being on base is more important than hitting a home run. If we're down one run or we're tied or up a run you might think about it. But in that situation you don't. So, he grooves me a fastball right down the middle.
"Now I'm looking for something I can get extended on. Look fastball. Don't be in between. Swing through a changeup if he throws me a good one. Anything middle-away let it go, same thing with the cutter. He threw me a fastball, and it was just a little too down and in. It was a good pitch by him. If I take it might be 3-2. I took my pass at it. That's a situation when I don't mind getting to 3-2. If that pitch is that much more middle, hopefully I don't miss it. But he made a good 3-1 pitch."
Now, with the count full, Gonzalez finds himself in the kind of unsavory position he has been running into of late -- at the mercy of the home plate umpire. He is rung up on a 92 mph fastball low and outside, just out of the strike zone.
"Now I'm looking middle-up, and at the end of the day I see it. … I got rung up on a pitch, you know," he lamented. "When it rains it pours."
Situation: Eighth inning, one out, nobody on, Chad Qualls pitching, Red Sox trailing, 5-3.
While there is no time during the game to dive into video work on the Phillies relievers, Gonzalez' work already has been done. He not only has faced the righty Qualls nine times (coming away with four hits), but prior to the first game of every series the Red Sox slugger makes sure his video research includes each of the opponent's relievers as well as that day's starter.
"Qualls is a sinker-slider guy," Gonzalez explained. "He wants you to chase the sinker down. The first pitch I want to see because I want to see him after seeing a lefty all game. It's a different angle. I just want to see a pitch.
"When you've been facing a lefty and they bring in a righty sinker-baller, unless there are runners in scoring position, it's OK to see one just so you can track it, see the movement and get an idea of how much the ball is moving and see where his ball is going to start."
Qualls offers a pretty good pitch on the first offering, hitting the outside corner with a sinker for a strike.
"Now I'm telling myself to look for something middle-up, because if it starts away it's just going to run off," Gonzalez said. "Middle-up, stay inside of it because with a sinker if you get around a sinker you're going to hit a ground ball. So just get inside something that's going to start middle-up. He ends up throwing me a slider, but it starts middle-up. But when you see a ball starting where you want it to, you go to it. I'm telling myself to stay inside of it and I happen to take a good path to it, and … when you go through a good streak, you just don't miss those pitches."
The ball is absolutely launched. One game after he had promised he would break his home run drought, the lefty hitter accomplishes the feat.
The slider from Qualls had dropped into the low-inside quadrant of the strike zone, allowing Gonzalez to adjust. But, unlike most lefty hitters, that spot isn't Gonzalez' preferred zone. It goes against the trend of almost every left-handed hitter in baseball.
"For me, low and inside would be a ground ball," he said. "Most lefties would be able to get underneath a ball low and in, but for me I get on top of it. So for me, especially with most teams playing the shift on me, it's going to be a ground ball to short right field every time. And if I look in, I tend to want to pull off the ball a little bit and I eliminate the outer-half."
So, at the end of the day, how would Gonzalez grade his approach and execution?
"Second at-bat I shouldn't have swung at that pitch, for sure," he said. "That's the one at-bat I could have done a lot better with. The first at-bat I got the pitch I wanted and I just didn't hit it. You're not going to be perfect every time. You're not going to hit the ball the way you want every time. The third at-bat I got to 3-1 and took a good swing on 3-1 and then took a pitch I should have taken, but unfortunately it was strike three. Then the last one, obviously it worked out."
Another game, four more at-bats, 12 pitches.
The life of a professional hitter.