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Zulgad: Professional approach: Marwin Gonzalez has been welcome addition to Twins on and off the field

Marwin Gonzalez’s three-run homer in the eighth inning Tuesday night in Milwaukee might have been one of the Twins’ most important hits of the season and provided a much-needed victory. His run-scoring double off Cleveland closer Brad Hand in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday temporarily tied the score and showed Gonzalez’s ability to deliver in the clutch.

But for those who have watched the Twins on a daily basis this season they know those hits are only a small part of what has made the switch-hitting Gonzalez such an important part of this club in his first year in Minnesota. What really stands out is the level of professionalism the 30-year-old brings on a daily basis.

An example:

Gonzalez played all over the place during his first seven big-league seasons with the Houston Astros, but he had never been asked to start a game in right field. That changed in mid-May when manager Rocco Baldelli wanted to get Max Kepler a rest and decided Gonzalez would be in right. Gonzalez mishandled a ball that led to a three-run rally for the Angels but later added a homer in the Twins’ loss that night.

Gonzalez never once objected to being put in right field — a difficult assignment in Target Field considering there are three different surfaces the ball can hit off of and each causes a different ricochet. Gonzalez entered Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee having played 36 games at third base — most early in the season in place of the injured Miguel Sano — 29 in right field, 16 in left field, 14 at first base, two at second base, two at designated hitter and one at shortstop.

He was slashing .256/.320/.416 with 14 homers and 41 RBIs in 97 games. Gonzalez’s experience in Houston — which included a World Series title in 2017 — has clearly paid off in a clubhouse that has benefitted from his leadership and calm approach. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz (32 home runs) has proven to be one of the best free agent signings of the offseason, but Gonzalez might be one of the most underrated acquisitions made by any team.

He brings the type of professional approach that managers and coaches across all sports desire. Think Terence Newman playing cornerback for the Vikings and basically serving as an assistant coach. Or Taj Gibson helping the young Timberwolves — at least those he could — learn how to be professionals.

What’s interesting is that Gonzalez did not sign his two-year, $21 million deal ($12 million this season and $9 milllion in 2020) with the Twins until early in spring training. Like so many free agents of the past few years, he sat on the market waiting to find work. The Twins scooped up a couple of free agents like that in 2018, signing pitcher Lance Lynn and first baseman/DH Logan Morrison.

The assumption was the Twins had gotten a bargain on both players, but once they arrived it was clear neither one was happy to be in Minnesota. Both felt that they had been done wrong and deserved better and it showed in their performances.

Gonzalez would have had every right to feel the same way. The Astros had replaced him with the cheaper (one year, $2 million)  and slightly younger (29) Aledmys Diaz. Gonzalez was a favorite in Houston and his home run in the ninth off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in Game 2 of the 2017 World Series proved crucial to bringing the Astros their first World Series title.

He had finished 19th in the AL MVP voting that season after slashing .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs in 134 games. Last season, those numbers dipped to .247/.324/.409 with 16 homers, 68 RBIs in 145 games. But, again, it’s not just the stats that define Gonzalez’s value. He also spent time playing every position except for pitcher and catcher for the Astros in 2018.

“He’s a unique player because I can put him anywhere,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of Gonzalez during the 2018 playoffs. “At any given point on any team, this guy can literally play six positions every day. … As I’ve said before, he’s the answer to everything. We have a problem, we insert Marwin, and no matter what, he steps up in a huge way.”

Gonzalez has continued to do that with the Twins — sometimes in a starring role but, just as importantly, in a supporting role that only is noticed by a few. It should be appreciated by all.





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