Apr. 29—When Hunter Dozier's 107-mph rocket came streaking down the third-base line in the fourth inning, Erik Gonzalez made a stop that dropped him to the dirt. Gonzalez came up on his left knee and threw across his body to second base to start an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Todd Frazier — who has played more than 1,000 games at the hot corner in his 11-year major league career — watched in amazement from across the infield.
"A huge play by him," Frazier said of Gonzalez. "How many times have you seen it? Makes a great play, comes up and does something when he's hitting."
After drawing a leadoff walk to start the bottom of the fourth, Frazier had a great vantage point from first when Gonzalez crushed a 1-2 fastball from Mike Minor to left field, a 453-foot shot for a two-run home run in the 9-6 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night at PNC Park.
The two plays were indicative of why Pirates manager Derek Shelton has found ways to keep Gonzalez in the lineup, thanks to a great glove and versatility in the field and his knack for driving in runs. Gonzalez has a .243 batting average this season but is hitting .375 (9 for 24) and has 12 RBIs with runners in scoring position.
Shelton said Gonzalez is making a case to remain in the starting lineup when rookie third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes returns from the injured list — even if it requires him to play a different position.
"One hundred percent he is," Shelton said. "The play he made at third, I don't know how hard that ball was hit, but it was hit really hard. And to be able to execute that. ... So, yeah, he's doing an unbelievable job, and his ability to catch the ball really puts himself in a position (to play with) whoever is on the field."
Gonzalez has shown flashes of brilliance before, as he batted .282/.315/.494 with seven doubles, a triple, three home runs and 15 RBIs last August. That included a four-hit, six-RBI game against Detroit in which Gonzalez launched a 463-foot bomb to left and fell a triple short of hitting for the cycle. But he slipped to .184 in September and lost the battle for the starting shortstop job to Kevin Newman in spring training.
The difference from last summer to this season, Shelton said, is Gonzalez is maintaining the adjustments he is making. He is hitting .243 (18 for 74) with five doubles and two homers, and his 14 RBIs rank second on the team behind Colin Moran.
Gonzalez showed his versatility by switching from third to shortstop in the ninth inning against the Royals, as Shelton made several defensive moves to keep Moran's bat in the lineup for a potential ninth-inning rally. Todd Frazier moved to third, Newman to second and Adam Frazier to left field. Gonzalez is capable of playing all of those positions.
"I don't put too much thought into that. I haven't been told where I'm going to be playing, but I come in, I see my name on the lineup and, mentally and physically, I prepare for that," Gonzalez said last week. "And if I'm not on the lineup, then I'm in that dugout just cheering for my teammates and celebrating them and encouraging them in every way possible.
"I'm not the type of ballplayer that's looking around, seeing, 'Oh man, this guy's not playing center, this guy's not playing right, this guy's not playing this other position. That means I'm going to be playing here or there.' I try not to put too much mental effort when it comes to that. I just come to the field, and wherever I see myself in the lineup, that's where I'm going to get ready for and go out there and play."
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .