Leadoff man Emilio Bonifacio playing the top hits
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter April 9, 2014 10:38PM
Updated: April 10, 2014 9:46AM
Emilio Bonifacio can’t really keep this up, can he?
The short answer: Of course not.
But how long can the leadoff hitter slap his way on base, steal bases, lead the league in hits and keep the voices from the center-field bleachers in his corner (“We love you, Emilio!”)?
And can it make a difference before the slow start turns into full spiral?
“One thing I know: It won’t be like that all season,” said Bonifacio, who singled and scored in the first and doubled and scored in the sixth in a 7-5 victory over the Pirates on Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
His 2-for-5 night dropped his league-leading batting average to .500 (19-for-38) and his on-base percentage to .537 (second to the Royals’ Salvador Perez).
“I don’t want to think much about it,” he said. “I just want to keep doing good and try to help the team win ballgames. At the end, that’s what matters.”
So far, it hasn’t translated into much run production, mostly because of the team’s lousy performance with men in scoring position, a problem from 2013 that was not addressed in the offseason.
At the very least, Bonifacio has been the brightest spot in the lineup in an otherwise dreary start offensively; a source of energy, speed and multihit games.
And he’s about the only certainty in manager Rick Renteria’s never-ending landscape of lineup changes. He’s the only player who has batted in the same spot all eight games so far (though he’s played both center field and second base).
“That’s really big,” Renteria said of being able to lock in the leadoff spot in a largely platoon lineup, something Renteria may stick with even after Bonifacio’s inevitable return to earth.
“He obviously works the at-bats extremely well,” Renteria said. “How he plays dictates how we use him. [But] again, his speed and his ability to play a lot of different positions allows us to use that slot for him.”
Bonifacio, who became available early in spring training after being released by the Royals (they needed payroll space and had infield depth), has quickly turned into a two-way value guy.
Making only $2.5 million, he was signed to fill a need and has the potential to stick around beyond this year as a veteran presence who might help the transition of some of the fast-rising prospects.
On the other hand, if he remains productive into midseason, he could become valuable enough to lure a good prospect from a contender with a table-setting need.
“It’s not something I can really control,” he said. “And it’s really early. It’s only eight games, so there’s a long season to go. You don’t want to even think about it, so you just want to stay happy and do your work. You don’t know what could happen. You don’t know where you’re going to be.”
After all, he’s played for as many teams as he has played positions — six.
That includes three teams in less than a year. And even though he was caught off guard when the Royals released him while he was leading all hitters during the Caribbean championship series in Venezuela, he said he’s not out to prove anything to them or anyone else.
“No,” he said, “you want to do good no matter what. It happened. … I just want to go out and be kind of like I’ve been the last couple years. And I’ve been having a really good year so far.”