LOS ANGELES—By the time Adrian Gonzalez steps into the batter’s box Sunday evening to face Julio Teheran, he figures to have a decent idea of how the Atlanta Braves right-hander will attack him.
“Adrian is probably the smartest hitter I’ve ever played with,” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said.
That’s why Dodgers players are sometimes seen talking to Gonzalez before their at-bats. There were multiple times this season when Yasiel Puig said the four-time All-Star’s advice helped him hit a home run.
For Gonzalez, everything starts in front of a computer screen.
Gonzalez spent Saturday watching video of Teheran, the hard-throwing 22-year-old who will take the mound for the Braves at Dodger Stadium in Game 3 of a National League division series.
“When I first started looking at video, I did a lot of stuff where normal people do, where they just look at their own swing and try to break down their swing so they can make adjustments on their swing,” Gonzalez said. “But then I realized that I don’t need video to know my swing. I know my swing. So I’m better off putting that time into getting to know the pitcher and catcher.
“Once I get to know the pitcher and catcher, I can pretty much call their game. I feel when I’m at the plate, I can tell what a catcher wants to call or what a pitcher wants to throw. At that point, it’s just about execution.”
Gonzalez said he typically gains a feel for a pitcher after watching him throw 150 to 200 pitches. Seeing how hard a pitcher throws is difficult, but Gonzalez said there are ways to tell.
“The gun really means nothing, at least to me,” Gonzalez said. “It could be 95, but it could be a soft 95. It could be 90, and when you get up there, it’s a lot harder, so in my mind it could be 95. That’s the only thing I can’t tell you. But I can see it off a hitter’s reactions or if guys are late on a fastball down the middle over and over and over again, it means the pitches have life.”
From the video room, Gonzalez migrates to the batting cages.
“Every swing I take is focused on the game plan that I have, what I’m trying to cover, what I’m trying to lay off of,” Gonzalez said. “If I catch something in my sleep or overnight, I’ll come in and make a tweak here or there.”
Often, adjustments are made mid-game.
Take Game 1 of the division series, when Gonzalez was two for five with a home run in the Dodgers’ 6-1 victory.
In his first at-bat, with no outs and no men on in the second inning, starter Kris Medlen threw him a first-pitch changeup. Gonzalez swung and missed.
“When a pitcher throws you a first-pitch changeup with nobody on, leading off an inning, he’s kind of saying that’s going to be his go-to pitch that day,” Gonzalez said. “So when I got a chance with runners in scoring position, I was going to go up there and look for it the whole at-bat.”
That opportunity came in the third inning. With two outs and Carl Crawford on second base, Medlen threw him another first-pitch changeup. Gonzalez crushed the pitch over the center-field wall.
Gonzalez’s knowledge of the opponents extends beyond the starting pitcher. Before the first game of a series, Gonzalez will familiarize himself with all of the team’s relievers and catchers.
For this series, he has studied how catchers Brian McCann, Gerald Laird and Evan Gattis like to call games. He has noted the pitchers’ on-field relationships with each of them, to see if a particular catcher will shake off one catcher more than another.
“I’m very methodical with everything I do in life,” Gonzalez said.
He was an honors student at Eastlake High in suburban San Diego. He said he would have studied mechanical engineering had he attended college.
What allows Gonzalez to put his ideas into practice is his calm demeanor. Gonzalez admitted he was overly energized for his first career playoff game, which was with the San Diego Padres in 2006. He was hitless in four at-bats and struck out twice.
He told himself to be patient. He was five for 10 with three walks over the remaining three games of the series, which the Padres lost to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Gonzalez said he was able to take that calm approach into the Dodgers’ series against the Braves.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Gonzalez said. “I felt normal for my first at-bat and first play on defense. I was really just enjoying the moment. It really seemed like another game.”
The combination of smarts and composure makes Gonzalez a force in crucial situations. Gonzalez led the Dodgers this season with 100 runs batted in and batted .356 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
“There’s nobody else we’d rather have up in a big situation than Adrian,” Ellis said. “That’s for sure.”
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