Matt McClain/Associated Press file photo
Matt McClain/Associated Press file photo
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It’s hard for Carlos Gonzalez to reflect too much on his forgettable 2012 season. The Colorado Rockies star is ready for a fresh start with a franchise counting on a new manager to turn things around fast in what appears to be a much-improved division.
So much has happened to Gonzalez since last fall. He got married and adopted his wife’s young son. He traveled home to Venezuela to see family and friends. He did more commercials.
CarGo, as the left fielder is called, is eager this spring training to find a groove that will carry him through a consistent season and avoid another second-half fade.
“I never feel happy at the end of a year, especially last year,” he said. “A lot of things went wrong, and that probably affected me in the second half, missing all the players. Of course it’s hard to write a lineup when you don’t have your best players out there.”
Colorado played without shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, first baseman Todd Helton and outfielder Michael Cuddyer for key stretches – a big blow that forced the backups into regular playing time.
The ones who were healthy didn’t come through when it mattered, and Gonzalez isn’t afraid to point some of the blame at himself for underachieving and trying to do too much that he began pressing.
“Last year everything was miserable, and it was reflected in my numbers and how I played,” Gonzalez said.
Also gearing up to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, Gonzalez hopes to improve his defense. He thought he should have thrown out more runners and held more runners last season. In addition, he spent the winter working on his speed, something he thinks will help his baserunning.
Playing in the WBC is a commitment Gonzalez said he and his countrymen feel obligated to, saying “it’s one of those situations we can’t say no.”
For a guy who talked about the Rockies regaining their swagger this season, he sounds perfectly confident at this stage.
“I don’t think we need practice; Venezuela doesn’t need practice,” he said with a grin.
Gonzalez received an $80-million, seven-year contract before the 2011 season, and his team began that year as an NL West favorite before a fourth-place division finish at 73-89. The Rockies then went a franchise-worst 64-98 last season and wound up at the bottom of the NL West.
“CarGo, the sky’s the limit,” new manager Walt Weiss said. “He’s one of these guys that when he shows up at the yard, he can hit it further than anybody, and he can throw it further than anybody. He’s a rare, rare talent.”
A first-time All-Star and Gold Glover last season, Gonzalez isn’t only about individual honors. He is striving for much more at age 27, presumably with his best baseball years still ahead.
With Weiss making the jump from high school coach straight to major league manager to replace the departed Jim Tracy, Colorado’s players appreciate a fresh approach and have discovered a newfound confidence.
They also know they must earn their positions with a new manager.
“It’s a new beginning in every aspect,” Gonzalez said. “This guy knows what everybody wants in this locker room, and we’re all really excited to play for him and give him the best.
“When players have their jobs secure, everybody feels comfortable. We probably didn’t work as hard as we should have.”
While Gonzalez batted .303 last season with 22 home runs, 85 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 135 games, he wasn’t happy with his hitting down the stretch – .222 in August and .262 in September and early October. That came after a .351 May and a .347 June. He wound up batting .261 after the All-Star break with only five homers and 27 RBIs.
“I had special numbers at the end, but I don’t show up to just put up numbers,” he said.
These days, when Gonzalez leaves the field he can transform into his new role as family man – one he is embracing.
“It’s been great,” Gonzalez said. “Having my wife all the time around me, and her son, it’s a new experience for us. We definitely enjoy it. We went back to Venezuela for a while, spent time with my family and her family, and so far it’s been great. I love having her right next to me and supporting me in good moments and bad moments.”