OAKLAND — Petaluma’s Jonny Gomes is an independent thinker.
I asked him some questions Wednesday morning, Gomes who returned to the A’s in the Yoenis-Cespedis-for-Jon-Lester trade. Just about every time, Gomes reinterpreted the question or disputed the question in a polite way. It showed he was listening instead of answering on auto-pilot, as many big leaguers do.
Here’s what I mean. I said, “I wonder if it’s possible to step outside yourself and say what you bring to this team that is important, good, essential.”
“To start with, I’m not going to do that,” Gomes said, standing at his locker, the same locker he had last time on the A’s. “I’m not ready to step outside of my shoes and grade myself and pat myself on the back. I played in a couple of different organizations. I played in the National League, played under Lou Piniella, Joe Maddon, Dusty Baker, Davey Johnson, Bob Melvin, John Farrell. I’ve seen a lot of the pieces of the pie. The one thing I take pride in is giving some of that information back that I’ve received.”
For example, he talks to teammates about being aggressive, about going for it, about knowing the pitch count of the opposing starting pitcher, about making him work, about getting into the bullpen early, about “piling on the pressure.” He tells teammates it’s OK to be overaggressive certain times at bat or in the field even if you fail “because it’s going to pay off down the road.” He calls this “baseball IQ stuff.”
Gomes bats right-handed. The A’s play him more against left-handed pitchers than right-handers, platoon him. They did not start him on Wednesday, a 7-3 loss, because the Tampa Bay Rays threw a righty.
“Among reasons Billy Beane brought you back,” I said, “is you hit very well against lefties. I am not saying you don’t hit well against righties. What looks different for you when you hit against a lefty vs. a righty?
Gomes coughed. This was a question he wanted to redirect.
“I mean, I made it to the big leagues in 21/2 years,” he said. “I was third in Rookie of the Year in 2005, drove in almost 90 runs in 2010. I can hit righties. It’s been proven I can. I just fell into some platoon roles. In this game, pitching, fielding, hitting, anything is timing and rhythm. Truly, I could face a 15-year-old kid in December and I would have absolutely no chance because my timing is not there.
“When you’re talking six to seven games a week, four at-bats a game, your timing’s going to be there. But when you’re talking maybe anywhere between six and 10 at-bats against righties in a month, you come back and they say, ‘Hey, good swing. Just missed.’ It’s still an out. There’s no just-misses on the batting average. It’s just timing.
“It’s the role I’ve fallen into. It’s tough these days to hit lefties. You look at some of the lefties in the game right now, we’re talking David Price, Jon Lester, Cliff Lee. It goes on and on. Lefties are aces these days. They’re tough to hit.”
I had run up against Gomes’ pride.
“Your stats against lefties are really good,” I said. “You’re batting .295 against lefties.” I was going to add Cespedes was batting just .232 against lefties, something Beane knew. You can count on that. But I never got to Cespedes’ stats. Gomes cut me off.