His batting average reads like a misprint: .217. CarGo is so far gone, it’s fair for the Rockies to worry if one of the best hitters in baseball is ever coming back.
After Carlos Gonzalez failed to deliver in the clutch and went hitless Thursday during a 6-3 loss to Cincinnati, I asked what it’s like to be him in the batter’s box right now.
“It’s a nightmare,” Gonzalez told me.
How bad is this 3-month-old dream that has seen him drive in only 22 runs through 88 games? One so ugly Gonzalez described his nightmare with an adjective not fit for print in a family newspaper.
“I know what it feels to be the best player in game and the worst player in the game,” Gonzalez said. “Right now, I feel like I’m the worst player in the game.”
The Rockies are so desperate to get Gonzalez going, they have tried everything and anything, from offering technical advice in the batting cage to writing his name in the cleanup spot of the batting order, as if that little psychological ploy might raise the ghost of the CarGo who hit .336, with 34 home runs and 117 RBIs, in 2010.
Three months is more than a slump. It’s a disturbing trend. We saw the end of Dan Issel with the Nuggets and Peyton Manning with the Broncos, and it wasn’t pretty. But at age 31, Gonzalez is much too young to be washed up. He insists there is nothing wrong physically, and no strife in his personal life.
So what’s wrong? And how do the Rockies get CarGo right?
“I don’t know if there’s a simple answer,” manager Bud Black said. “It looks to me, in general, overall this season, that he is expanding the (strike) zone a little bit too much. He’s swinging at balls too often. … I’m seeing an expansion of his hitting zone, which always leads to trouble.”
What are Colorado’s options with Gonzalez? While the Rockies could really use another right-handed pitcher in the bullpen, CarGo doesn’t have trade value as a highly paid, slumping veteran in the final year of his contract. Black can’t bench Gonzalez, because if he doesn’t get going, it’s hard to imagine the Rockies being a factor in October. The team, however, can reduce his workload to five games per week, allowing more at-bats for fellow corner outfielders Raimel Tapia and Gerardo Parra, who’s expected back from the disabled list for the weekend series against the Chicago White Sox.
The peeps come to LoDo to see fireworks and explosive offense. Coors Field is so infamous for crooked numbers on the scoreboard that in a recent USA Today story that speculated the baseball is juiced in 2017, Miami reliever Brad Ziegler said: “It feels like every park is Colorado.”
So as strange as it sounds, it’s true: The Rockies rank 10th among National League teams in home runs per game. There are reasons aplenty. Trevor Story is scuffling through a sophomore slump. Ian Desmond has been bit by the injury bug. Nothing, however, has hurt more than CarGo not being CarGo.
With the Colorado offense sputtering, failure is not an option for Gonzalez. But failure has plopped down on CarGo’s couch, eaten everything in the fridge and refuses to leave. It’s depressing.
“The manager wants me to execute. Everybody in the state wants me to execute. And I don’t get it done. Of course, I get down,” Gonzalez said.
In the bottom of the eighth inning Thursday, after the Rockies rallied for a run but still trailed 6-3, Charlie Blackmon stood on third base. Gonzalez dug in at the plate. This is where Colorado needed one of the most feared hitters in the game to lash a double or blast a homer that would bring the ballpark to life and push the rally into overdrive.
Instead, Gonzalez lined the second pitch from Reds reliever Raisel Iglesias into the right-field stands. It was the best-looking swing of the bat from CarGo in days. But it was nothing except a foul ball.
Gonzalez worked the count to 3-2. But with the home crowd itching for any good reason to leap to its feet and cheer, he struck out.
This is how it feels to be the slugger formerly known as CarGo, when he gets one good pitch to hammer and comes up empty.
“It feels like I missed my bus,” Gonzalez said.
After every failure, Gonzalez walks very slowly back to the Colorado dugout, his bruised ego hurting with every step. The bat that has betrayed him goes back in the rack. Tomorrow will be better. Or so CaGo hopes. Every morning, he gets out of bed, looks in the mirror and sees “the best player in the game.”
But for three months, tomorrow has never come.
Miss your bus, and it’s a long, lonely walk.