Adrian Gonzalez reached across his body and pointed toward his right forearm. The entire mess started there. And perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, it should have ended there.
Gonzalez chose to avoid the disabled list. In his 14-year career, he has never been shut down because of an injury. He did not view the inflammation in his elbow, which radiated pain and caused stiffness in his forearm starting in December, as a significant obstacle. He represented Mexico in the World Baseball Classic in March and he manned first base for the Dodgers on opening day a month later.
Except Gonzalez, a 35-year-old, five-time All-Star, has yet to replicate the performance the Dodgers expect. He altered his mechanics to compensate for the soreness in his forearm, which caused strain in his left triceps. Gonzalez finished April with a .259 batting average and zero home runs.
“He doesn’t,” manager Dave Roberts said this week, “look like Adrian.”
As his production cratered, an old injury flared up. Gonzalez aggravated a previously herniated disk during a day off April 20, when he felt his back give while bending to pick up his daughter. The consequences of the benign incident could ripple outward as the Dodgers debate whether to shut down Gonzalez for at least 10 days.
Gonzalez did not factor into the Dodgers offense Wednesday. Few hitters did. Handed a gift when Giants second baseman Joe Panik dropped a popup in the sixth inning, Yasiel Puig barreled to third base on the error. A run-scoring single by backup infielder Chris Taylor ended the deadlock. Ross Stripling coughed up the lead in the eighth, when outfielder Hunter Pence hit a leadoff single that raced underneath Gonzalez’s glove, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a groundout.
San Francisco pulled ahead against Grant Dayton in the 11th inning. Dayton gave up a run-scoring double to outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and a run-scoring single to first baseman Brandon Belt. A sacrifice fly by Pence capped the rally.
Batting sixth, Gonzalez was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. Before the game he suggested the herniation was not as severe as 2016, when he received a painkilling epidural. He does not expect to require another injection. His chief complaint is tightness. His back struggles to loosen up, which has compromised his swing.
“I’ve just got broken parts, man,” he said with a grin.
The status of Gonzalez looks like an object of debate as the Dodgers sort out a roster crunch. Joc Pederson (groin strain) is expected to rejoin the club by Friday. Logan Forsythe (broken toe) may require a lengthier layoff — he left a rehab game with Class-A Rancho Cucamonga after only two innings Wednesday. Forsythe is also dealing with tightness in a hamstring.
With Cody Bellinger shining in his first week in the majors, the organization must decide how to manage the math. In theory, putting Gonzalez on the DL would create an opening without displacing Bellinger. Bellinger can play first base and all three outfield spots. Rest for Gonzalez would also avoid an awkward situation for Roberts, who is adamant Bellinger should not yet usurp Pederson for outfield at-bats. Roberts does not believe established players should lose playing time when they return from injury.
Bellinger may loom as the heir apparent at first base, but the organization does not intend to change that guard in 2017. Gonzalez and Roberts have been friends for more than a decade. The manager’s admiration for the first baseman runs deep. Roberts commended Gonzalez for his durability. Gonzalez has played in at least 156 games in every season since 2006.
“When you play all those years and you never go on the DL, you don’t feel great all the time,” Roberts said. “That’s why I just have so much respect for him. Because sometimes, for players, to go on the DL is the easy way out. And he literally has never done that.”
Gonzalez takes pride in his persistence. But he pushed back at the notion that he would refuse to take the team’s medical advice. He said he is willing to be shut down.
“I would consider it, 100%,” Gonzalez said. “I’m never against it. It’s not like they’re telling me ‘We want to put you on the DL,’ and I’m like ‘No, no, no.’ That’s not the case. I’ve played through injuries my whole life. It’s not something new to me. I’ve always just played through whatever I’ve got, and found a way to deal with it.”
Gonzalez believes he is getting closer to a solution. He indicated the right elbow tendinitis has passed. He said he can generate the necessary extension with his swing, and no longer needs to compensate with his left arm.
“As long as I’m right, and I’m able to do the things I want to do, when I get on a roll, it’ll be a really good roll,” Gonzalez said.