Nationals need Alberto Gonzalez to accept his role
Alberto Gonzalez's chances to make the Nationals' roster this spring may have more to do with his attitude than his ability. Manager Jim Riggleman could tell that a lack of playing time among a crowded middle-infield situation rankled Gonzalez last year, and this year, Riggleman said, he needs to accept that role in order to secure a spot on the team.
"When you're a young guy, you feel that those days of being a utility player come later in your career, not now," Riggleman said. "That's what we had for Alberto last year. That's what we anticipate having for him this year. It's a role that he's got to get comfortable with."
Gonzalez will compete with Alex Cora, who was signed to a minor-league deal this offseason, for the utility infield spot. (Riggleman also mentioned Brian Bixler, but he seems to be a long shot.) Or the Nationals could potentially go with Matt Stairs as a power bat off the bench and use Jerry Hairston as a middle infielder. Either way, the Nationals want to avoid the logjam they had last year at middle infield.
As Riggleman tried to split playing time between Ian Desmond, Adam Kennedy, Cristian Guzman, Gonzalez and, in September, Danny Espinosa, it created a difficult atmosphere. Kennedy was upset with his role, as was Gonzalez.
"I think it was bothersome to him last year, his playing time," Riggleman said. "Obviously, it was bothersome. We had four middle infielders last year. It really was not a good scenario for us to be the most productive. Willie Harris could play second base. We had a lot of guys who could play the middle infield. Too many of those guys ended up on the bench, not seeing any daylight. They're going, 'What am I doing?' We can't have that."
Gonzalez has the skills to be a valuable contributor. One National League scout last year called him the best defensive utility infielder in baseball. At the end of the season, when Ryan Zimmerman missed the final 10 games with an injury, Gonzalez substituted and played "Gold Glove defense," Riggleman said.
Even then, though, his displeasure with his role bubbled up. He went 6 for 38 with a double and no walks during his stint as the starter, possibly an effect from his stewing rather than staying ready.
"We had a lot of conversations last year," Riggleman said. "I know his feelings about it. He knows my feelings about it. The playing time just wasn't there. You never know when that opportunity is going to arise. I think it bothered him to the point where he really got down about the whole season. The last 10 days of the season, he played Gold Glove third base for us. But he wasn't ready to hit. The feeling he had about how miserable the season was for him personally, I think it took him three or four days to get back in the swing of things offensively."
| February 20, 2011; 4:36 PM ET
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