Gomes looking for opportunity to excel
Slugger slated to share time at right field, designated hitter
ST. PETERSBURG -- What is the first thought that pops into your mind when you think about Jonny Gomes? The following responses were elicited when the question was posed inside the Rays' clubhouse:
Hitting coach Steve Henderson: "Aggressive."
James Shields: "One of a kind."
Carlos Pena: "Fun."
B.J. Upton: "Gamer."
Carl Crawford: "Power."
Akinori Iwamura gave the same response as Crawford, only in Japanese: "Chikara."
Gomes is many things to many people, but lost somewhere among the many different attributes and character traits is this: He puts the ball on the other side of the fence. In essentially just 2 1/2 years with the Rays, he already ranks fifth in home runs in team history with 58.
"That's the thing with me," Gomes said. "My good stretches are so good, but my bad stretches are so bad. And I just need someone to kind of stick with me. And with time, I'm going to start erasing those bad stretches more and more.
Pretty much since I started playing baseball, I'd have a couple of bad games, I'd have a couple of good games. But when the season's over, you step back and look and it's like, 'He did have a lot of home runs. He did have a lot of RBIs. He does have a lot of stolen bases.' But it's not consistent for the whole season."
The Rays acquired Cliff Floyd during the offseason, and they are expecting Rocco Baldelli to make a healthy return to the playing field. Splicing the pair together with Gomes has produced what Rays manager Joe Maddon has labeled his "right-field triangle." Accordingly, the trio is expected to fill the right field and DH slots.
Plans are plans, but Gomes isn't one to be content with any creation that sees him on the bench instead of being a part of what's going on between the white lines. In other words, one doesn't need to know trigonometry to figure out this is one triangle that doesn't sit well with Gomes.
"I can't make those decisions [about who is in the lineup every day]," Gomes said. "If you asked me, you just get a Sharpie and pencil me in for 162 games. And that's the bottom line, you know.
"They went out this offseason and they decided they were going to attack it with the triangle way or whatever. So that's their game plan. [If] you go to an NFL club ... [and] they run a West Coast offense, that's what they're running. That's what they want to do here, so I keep my pie hole shut, and [I'll do my job] when I get in there."
Maddon isn't one to get upset when a decision he makes doesn't sit well with a player. When asked about Gomes not exactly embracing the triangle concept, Maddon smiled.
"Absolutely, I'm good with that," Maddon said. "You set it up one way, [and] you're probably going to play it that way. But when the season is in progress, a whole bunch of different things can happen, and he may have to play a whole lot. I don't know that. He's working really hard. His at-bats [have been really good]. He's been working really well in the outfield. He's probably our best baserunner. I'm good with that."
Gomes has learned some valuable lessons from what he experienced the past two seasons.
"The one thing that I really realized is that the tables can be turned that quick," Gomes said. "You can be in the Rookie of the Year running to the starting left fielder in [Triple-A] Durham in the blink of an eye. I've realized how lucky I am to be here today. And now I've realized how quick it can be gone.
"When you get down there, you're rubbing shoulders with guys who have been up there and had good success. And now they're just battling to get back. So I understand my time is now and I have to leave it on the field. Make it happen."
Along those lines, Gomes now feels better prepared than ever before to be a Major Leaguer.
"I'm not the [most] gifted athlete," Gomes said. "Nothing's really come easy to me. Everything I have has come from my repetition. So that's what I've been better at now, getting here and understanding how much different the big league game is from the Minor Leagues. There's some stuff up here that really makes it difficult to crack it up here. You just have to make the adjustments a lot quicker. And again, [you have to] understand you've got 25 guys over there and maybe 50 guys in the stands trying to get you out, the scouts and stuff."
Whether or not Gomes must fight a triangle situation, he's up for the task.
"There will come a time when I get between the lines," Gomes said. "And as I've said before, there's one thing you can't fight and that's time. You can't fight time. When my time comes, I'll be ready."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.