Gonzalez gives Sox stability at short

Posted Oct. 05, 2009, at 10:17 p.m.

BOSTON — The Red Sox revolving door at shortstop began spinning the day they traded Nomar Garciaparra.

More than five years later, it’s finally slowing down.

It lost steam when Boston traded for Alex Gonzalez on Aug. 14. It inched forward again when he was hit on the right hand by a pitch Friday night, raising fears of a fracture. But X-rays the next day were negative.

“It’s nothing big,” Gonzalez said. “Keep playing.”

He returned for Sunday’s regular-season finale and homered in a 12-7 win over the Cleveland Indians.

Next up: The AL division series against the Los Angeles Angels starting in Anaheim on Wednesday or Thursday night. The New York Yankees, with the AL’s best record, will decide Tuesday when they want to start their series and the Angels-Red Sox matchup will begin on the other day.

Gonzalez should be ready.

“Everyone says your defense starts up the middle and (at) shortstop,” left fielder Jason Bay said Monday, “and we had some uncertainty there, although the guys that filled in did a pretty good job. But now you solidify that a little bit more and it makes us that much better.

“He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at shortstop.”

When general manager Theo Epstein traded Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs at the July 31 trade deadline in 2004 — perhaps the boldest and riskiest move of his career — he parted with a two-time batting champion who started 871 of Boston’s 972 games at shortstop in his six full seasons.

But starting in 2004, 14 players have started at shortstop for Boston with Gonzalez leading with 153 (110 in 2006 and 43 this year).

The only others with more than 100 starts are Edgar Renteria, Alex Cora and Julio Lugo. The remaining 10 are Nick Green, Jed Lowrie, Orlando Cabrera, Pokey Reese, Cesar Crespo, Dustin Pedroia, Ricky Gutierrez, Mark Bellhorn, Royce Clayton and Garciaparra.

Hardly a model of stability. Certainly not like Derek Jeter, who started 907 of the New York Yankees 972 games at shortstop in those same seasons.

Gonzalez has a .994 fielding percentage for Boston with one error in 159 chances this year. Green’s is .956 and Lugo’s was .928 before being released and signing with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Bringing in Alex, who’s been really steady since he’s been here, was a significant upgrade,” Epstein said. “That’s been a steadying influence on our overall defense and our pitching staff.”

Gonzalez also brought unexpected offense. A. 247 career hitter, he batted .284 with five homers in 44 games with Boston after hitting just .210 with three homers in 68 games with Cincinnati.

“Gonzo’s been huge defensively and chipped in offensively probably more than people thought,” Bay said.

The Red Sox got Cabrera in the Garciaparra trade and he started 57 games before helping them win their first World Series since 1918.

But Boston let him leave in free agency and signed Renteria, who started 150 games in 2005. He also lasted just one year and Gonzalez took over. In 2007, Julio Lugo started 139 games.

In 2008, the breakdown was Lugo 79, Lowrie 45, Cora 38.

Lugo and Lowrie competed for the position this year but were hampered by injuries so Green started 74 games.

Now Green is likely to be left off the division series roster with a nerve problem in his back. Lowrie figures to be the backup infielder although his left wrist, which has bothered him all season, is far from completely healthy.

“We have a couple of days off so we’ll just continue to do what we need to do, strengthen it and get that inflammation out of there,” Lowrie said “It’s been a trying year for me.”

In 2006, Pedroia had his turn at shortstop, starting five games. Then he settled in at second base and was named AL rookie of the year in 2007 and MVP in 2008.

This year, he’s played with four different starting shortstops and adjusted well.

“I’ve taken a lot of ground balls with each guy,” he said. “We’re comfortable out there and we understand that when we need to turn a double play, it needs to be turned.”

Notes: Reliever Manny Delcarmen said his back and neck felt better after he was hurt when a car hit his Hummer, forcing it into a median, on his way to Fenway Park for Saturday night’s game. Delcarmen, who struggled late in the season, said before leaving for Anaheim on Monday that he hadn’t talked with manager Terry Francona about his postseason status. … Bay said the Red Sox postseason success against the Angels doesn’t matter. “That’s a good team and we’ve got to treat it as such,” he said. The Red Sox swept the Angels in the 2004 and 2007 division series and won both World Series. Boston beat them 3-1 last year then lost the AL championship series in seven games to the Tampa Bay Rays.

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