Updated at: 04/25/2013 6:06 PM
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
(AP) HOUSTON - When Houston’s Marwin Gonzalez broke up Yu Darvish’s perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning April 2, the first question many asked was: Who is Marwin Gonzalez?
Three weeks later, Gonzalez is showing he’s no one-hit wonder. The shortstop _ who bats ninth _ entered Thursday hitting .289 in 16 games and his three homers are third on the team.
He’s also been strong defensively, teaming with second baseman Jose Altuve to turn some dazzling double plays, and has been one of the few bright spots in Houston’s tough start.
"Marwin’s been terrific," manager Bo Porter said. "In the opportunities in which he’s been given he’s performed well. He’s hit, he’s had great at-bats, he’s played tremendous defense. You’ve always known defensively he’s one of the most superior defensive guys in the big leagues. Offensively, I just think he’s just improving each and every day. We’re excited about his progression."
The trade of veteran shortstop Jed Lowrie to Oakland just before spring training left Gonzalez and Tyler Greene competing to start at shortstop for Houston. Gonzalez beat out Greene, but Houston signed veteran Ronny Cedeno after Greene was released.
Cedeno started on opening day, but Gonzalez’s strong play has led to his getting the bulk of the starts since.
The switch-hitting Gonzalez had just two homers and 12 RBIs with a .234 average in 80 games last season, his first in the majors. He already has seven RBIs this year, and has even surprised himself with the flashes of power he’s shown early.
"I don’t know, I was lucky," he said, laughing, when asked about his home runs.
The 24-year-old Venezuelan started 48 games for the Astros last season. He went to Venezuela in the off-season to play winter ball and believes he benefited from observing his teammates.
"I was watching so many good players in Venezuela because they were all playing to get ready for the World Classic," he said. "I was watching every detail."
He said he’s more focused this year and thinks his work this off-season has contributed to his strong start.
"I’m feeling good," he said. "I have confidence at the plate and in my whole game."
Gonzalez’s production at the back end of the lineup has been particularly beneficial to this team because Altuve, the leadoff hitter, is Houston’s best hitter with a .353 average.
"You look at the bottom of that lineup and you’re saying to yourself, you want to get as many people on base in front of Altuve as possible," Porter said. "You know that if you set the stage for him that, obviously (it’s good) because he’s one of the better hitters in our league."
After playing just one season in relative obscurity on a team that lost an MLB-worst 107 games, Gonzalez wasn’t prepared for the backlash that came after he grounded a clean single through Darvish’s legs when he was one out from perfection.
"There were a lot of bad comments that I can’t say and bad words and everything like that," Gonzalez said shaking his head. "I got the good comments from my family and friends and the bad comments from people who love baseball and Rangers fans. (Astros fans) made good comments, but Texas fans and strange people I didn’t know made pretty bad comments."
Gonzalez said he wasn’t bothered by the venomous response he received, and knows that he’ll forever be linked to that moment. But he’s determined to add plenty more hits this season to go along with his first of 2013 which kept Darvish from making history.
"I think if you play hard, good things will happen," he said. "I’m focused on my hitting and I think that will help me to stay in the game for a long time. I hope I can keep doing well because it’s early in the season."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)