Of course they had a scouting report. Vladimir Guerrero was an opponent — an opponent in the division, no less — so the Oakland Athletics knew just how to go about pitching to the Angels slugger.
“It was just ‘Try not to let it hit his bat,'” RailRiders starter Gio Gonzalez deadpanned. “That was pretty much the only answer we had. And there was only certain guys you can say that about that it’s just like avoid this. But he was just like, ‘Let him hit it hard at somebody if that’s the case.’”
Gonzalez first faced Guerrero on Aug. 27, 2008. He was a 22-year-old southpaw with four big league games to his name. Guerrero was a seven-time all-star and a former MVP at that time. Gonzalez only pitched three innings that game, but he retired Guerrero on fly balls both times.
“It was incredible to see him hit and it was just hopefully just get that night over with when I had to face him,” Gonzalez said. “He was incredible. Literally, it was just try to avoid anything up, down, left, right. It was almost just to the point where it was just unfair to throw to that guy.”
Gonzalez would more than hold his own against Guerrero. In 31 plate appearances, he hit .241/.290./.276 — well south of his career numbers, especially his numbers against lefties (.322/.400/.572). He had just one double and never hit a home run. Gonzalez has only faced 22 batters more times than he faced Guerrero, though he concedes that Guerrero’s knees were likely barking at that point in his career.
“Vladdy was not fun to pitch to,” he said. “It was just like hopefully he hits a nice one-hopper at somebody, but that one-hopper is like 115 (mph) off the bat. So, pick your poison: it was either let him get a hard-hit base hit or let him hit it over the mountains in left field.”
Today, Gonzalez makes his third start with the RailRiders and his second against Buffalo. This time around, he gets to face Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Best guess: this is the first time Senior and Junior have faced the same pitcher. Certainly, it’s the first time Junior has faced a pitcher with as much experience against his dad.
“I don’t think I’ll be calling my dad (for a scouting report),” Vlad Jr. said Saturday. “I want to kind of see and figure it out for myself and just get to know him. I admire and look up to him. He’s a great pitcher and so it’s always exciting just to be able to face someone that you admire and you look up to.”
Gonzalez called the comparisons between father and son “scary.”
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Gonzalez said. “It’s really cool, where you get to see a generation of baseball and what they’ve done in baseball. And then it’s very cool to see that family, how, what they do. They just produce big leaguers.”
Photos: Jake Danna Stevens / Staff photographer; Frank C. Lauri / Contributing photographer