Going Forward Without Gomes

The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. But for the Indians, the first mile has not gone exactly as planned.

In the first week, the Indians have lost Michael Brantley for the short term with a lower back strain, and Sunday it was announced they have lost Yan Gomes for 6-8 weeks with a sprained MCL. Rajai Davis slid hard into Gomes in the ninth inning of Saturday evening’s game. Gomes was carried off the field, not putting any pressure on his right leg, and was promptly placed on the disabled list Sunday morning with a knee sprain. Since, MRIs have confirmed Gomes’ MCL is strained. Realistic hopes don’t have him returning until early June.

He may not be their very best player, but Gomes could be the Indians most valuable. Baseball is a team game, and one that a team can still succeed in despite losing a valuable player, but the road to an American League Central Division title became a lot bumpier this weekend.

Before the Indians signed Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco to long-term extensions last Sunday, I had planned to write a column with 100 predictions for the Tribe’s season. One of my predictions was going to be that Gomes would join Brantley in Cincinnati in July, making his first All-Star Game. That prediction, printed or not, is squashed before the first full week of the 2015 season ends.

Gomes is regarded by the pitching staff as an excellent pitch-caller. Kluber trusts Gomes and his game-managing ability to the fullest extent and credits him with much of his success. When Kluber received his Cy Young Award at an MLB dinner, Gomes was part of Kluber’s entourage present to receive the award. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway credits Carrasco’s rebirth in part to trusting his pitches and throwing what Gomes calls.

Defensively, on a team that has putrid defense, Gomes is one of the better catchers in the league. In 2014, he was rated as the 11th best catcher in overall defensive rating. Defensive rating takes into account pitch framing, arm strength and accuracy and blocking the ball. His finish just outside the top third of regular catchers is admirable considering he struggled mightily committing seven errors in the first five weeks of the season last year. His final five months were quite strong to overcome such a slow start.

And offensively his loss in the lineup could be even worse than expected. Gomes, along with Brantley and Carlos Santana, were the only players to hit over 20 home runs a year ago. The Indians acquisition of Brandon Moss was thought to provide some extra power to the lineup and give the Indians another chance to score quickly, instead of stringing several hits together to produce one run. Now, Moss’ production may just be a replacement to the production lost from Gomes.

Worse yet, Gomes hit .331 a year ago versus left-handed pitchers. The Indians have struggled versus left-handed pitching for several years, due in part to their left-handed heavy lineup. Now, their best hitter versus southpaw pitching will be sidelined, making one of the Tribe’s team weaknesses all that much easier to exploit.

Sunday, the Indians remained positive like a team that just lost their starting quarterback, vowing to rally around their fallen teammate and that backup catcher Roberto Perez would do just fine. Former catcher and now coach Sandy Alomar Jr. told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, Perez is only a backup because the Indians have Gomes. Kluber said Perez calls a good game and the pitching staff remains in good hands. But still the same, Perez is not Gomes and the Indians took a major hit to their offense, defense and pitching staff this weekend. The Tigers stole three bases on Perez early in Sunday’s game. It won’t be the last time a team tests Perez.

For the short term, Santana served as the emergency and back up catcher on Sunday, but expect a roster move before Tuesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox. Brett Hayes is expected to be added to the Indians 40-man and 25-man roster. After a spring of speculation and projection of great things for the Tribe, getting swept by the defending division champion Detroit Tigers, having Zach McAllister and TJ House handled decidedly by the Tiger offense and losing Gomes for the season is not the script Sports Illustrated wrote when choosing the Indians to win their first World Series since 1948.

It’s a marathon and not a sprint of a season, but hopefully the second mile is better than the first.

Photo: Mark Duncan/AP Photo

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