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Gonzales Bids for Status Quo : Baseball: In campaign to keep job, his hit helps Angels defeat White Sox, 11-4.

May 18, 1993|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHICAGO — Third baseman Rene Gonzales can't understand the Angels' thinking and says it stinks that they are thinking of replacing him in the starting lineup.

Still, he has one advantage over Kelly Gruber in the competition for the starting job. Gonzales has three weeks to change Manager Buck Rodgers' mind, and on Monday in the Angels' 11-4 rout of the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park, began the process.

The Angels unleashed a 15-hit attack against starter Dave Stieb and three relievers in their biggest offensive outburst since April 14.

No hit, however, was more important to an Angel player's future than Gonzales' two-run single in the fifth inning. The hit tied the score, 3-3, and Gary DiSarcina broke it open two batters later with another two-run single.

"No doubt about it," Rodgers said, "it was the biggest hit of the night. Once Gonzo got that hit, everything just snowballed for us.

"I don't think you can measure every hit he gets, but it would behoove him to get warm these next two, three weeks."

Rodgers has maintained that the job would be Gonzales' to lose, no matter when Gruber recovered from his rotator cuff surgery. Gruber began his rehabilitative assignment Monday, and Rodgers said that he might be the starting third baseman when he's eligible to return June 5.

"Right now, there is no decision," Rodgers said. "Kelly would be in there.

"If Gonzo comes back and starts smoking, then there's a decision to be made. But he has to start hitting with some power. Right now, he's pushing the bat instead of generating bat speed.

"You may go through stretches where you don't hit home runs, but you don't lose power like that unless you do something wrong."

Gonzales has only four extra-base hits this season and has not hit a homer since June 19, 1992. His .289 slugging percentage is the lowest of any Angel in the starting lineup. However, Rodgers says he is willing to concede a little power if Gonzales can produce in the clutch as he did Monday.

"That was a big hit," Gonzales said. "The team needed it. And by the way it sounds, I guess I needed it, too.

"But I really don't understand this talk. If I perform well, how can I deserve not to be in there? The team's playing good, so I don't know why you'd want to change that.

"Obviously, I could help the team more if I got more extra-base hits, but I still think I belong in the lineup."

While Gonzales is out to prove that he deserves to be the everyday third baseman, designated hitter Chili Davis exhibited why it's premature for any talk that he should be leaving the lineup.

Davis, entering the game with a .200 batting average and 32 strikeouts in 105 at-bats, produced his finest game of the season. He hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning, singled in fifth inning and walked three times.

"I've just been way too aggressive up there," Davis said. "I've been swinging at everything and trying to make something out of nothing. So I wised up.

"I just decided that if they're not going to give me any pitches to hit, then I'll just take my walks. I think they saw that, decided that they had to pitch to me and you saw what happened."

Davis won't qualify as one of the Angels' best free-agent signings of the off-season--considering they picked up starter Scott Sanderson and reliever Gene Nelson for $800,000--but Rodgers contends the club is encouraged with their $2.25 million investment in Davis.

"My feeling is that we got Chili Davis for a major purpose on the club," Rodgers said, "and if we move him out of there after 100 at-bats, that's not the right way to go. We made a commitment to Chili, and it's too early to jerk the sheets. I'm not completely disillusioned with the job he's done. He's driven in some awfully big runs."

It was a night for virtually the entire team to celebrate: First baseman J.T. Snow, batting .081 the last 18 games, hit his 10th home run and recorded his first multiple-hit game since April 24; catcher John Orton went two for three and scored his first run since April 14; and shortstop Gary DiSarcina, who had been in a one-for-23 skid, drove in two runs.

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