After injury, Pirates haven’t forgotten about shortstop Erik Gonzalez
With his name in the starting lineup Saturday for only the 20th time this season, Erik Gonzalez reflected on one of best days of his major league career.
That was the day — Nov. 14, 2018 — he was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Pittsburgh Pirates. A shortstop playing behind Indians four-time All-Star Francisco Lindor doesn’t get much playing time.
“That was a happy day for me,” he said. “I got a new opportunity, more chance to play.”
But it hasn’t turned out that way.
Gonzalez, 27, opened this season as the Pirates’ starting shortstop before he suffered a fractured clavicle April 19 when he collided with center fielder Starling Marte while both were chasing a short fly ball.
“Marte’s an aggressive player. I’m an aggressive player, too,” Gonzalez said.
On Saturday at PNC Park, he made his fifth start since returning from the injured list Aug. 2. It was a bit of surprise because rookie shortstop Cole Tucker was brought up from Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday.
“Gonzalez was our Opening Day shortstop,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He lost his position by injury.
“He went down and did all the work, is finding his way back. We need to get him on the field. You can’t evaluate a guy when he doesn’t play.”
Gonzalez was hitting .216 at the time of his injury and was 2 for 16 since his return before he bounced into a double play and reached base on an error in his first two at-bats Saturday.
Gonzalez’s injury triggered Tucker’s first recall from Triple-A and eventually led to Kevin Newman seizing control of the shortstop position. Newman was hitting .303 before going 1 for 3 in his first three at-bats Saturday.
“I don’t know where we’d be if he didn’t get hurt,” Hurdle said of Gonzalez. “I don’t know where Newman would be, how it would all play out. Tucker may have never got here.”
The Pirates will use the final six weeks of the season as on-the-job training for some players.
“We need to find out where Mr. Gonzalez is,” Hurdle said.
What about Tucker?
“Show up (Sunday) in Williamsport, and maybe you’ll see him, maybe not,” his manager said.
Mixing with the kids
The Pirates are scheduled to fly to Williamsport on Sunday for the Little League Classic.
Before the game, Cubs and Pirates players will get a chance to mingle with young players competing in the Little League World Series.
“It’s like a trip to the amusement park. You’re just looking for the next ride,” Hurdle said. “When you get off the plane and those kids are on the tarmac and (the teams) exchange some gifts, that’s pretty cool.
“Last year, I got dragged to the concession stand. I got some popcorn and a hot dog.”
Hurdle said he is impressed with the improvements that have been made to Bowman Field over the years. He was manager of the New York Mets’ Williamsport minor league affiliate in 1991.
“Not the same field I managed at,” he said.
Steven Brault said he is eager to make his first visit. But he is not crazy about the recent episode in a regional game where the Rhode Island pitcher jumped off the mound to shake the hand of the Massachusetts batter who was rounding the bases after hitting a home run off him.
“I love the way they play the game, except high-fiving people when they hit home runs. I hate that so much,” Brault said. “Can you imagine if I gave Kris Bryant knocks as he was running around the bases?”
Walk-off cycle next?
Newman is one of only three Pirates rookies to record at least three walk-offs in a season in the past 100 years. He joins Al Oliver (four) and Jose Martinez (three), who did it in 1969.
Newman has a walk-off walk, single and double, plus a walk-off steal of home when he was at the University of Arizona.
The Pirates have set their rotation for the next five games. Mitch Keller will pitch Sunday in Williamsport, with Trevor Williams, Chris Archer, Joe Musgrove and Steven Brault scheduled to throw in the four-game series starting Monday with the Washington Nationals.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .