Lake County Captains fans were treated to a Major League duo Friday night in Eastlake, as catcher Yan Gomes and lefty T.J. House started their rehab assignments with the Indians’ Low-A minor league affiliate.
House has been on the DL with a sore left shoulder since May 1. Prior to his injury, House was 0-4 with a 13.15 ERA in four starts for the Indians. He threw three innings for the Captains on Friday at the same field where he spent his 2009 season, allowing no runs but giving up a ground-rule double in the top of the third inning. He struck out five batters in his three-innings of work.
“It feels good to be back on the mound and facing hitters,” House said. “I obviously struggled a little bit early on in the season, having that little bit of fatigue in my shoulder where I needed some rest. It was unforunate but it was something that needed to happen. To get out there today and see hitters for the first time, that was good. I was a little concerned about how my command would be and how my pitches would come to play with hitters in there, but it felt really good.”
House said that having more extended outings would be the true test for him.
“I’m not where I need to be, pitch count-wise, to be back with the team,” House said. “It’s not going to do them any good, to stick me out there with 70 pitches. Until I can get to a point where I can get out there and throw 100, that’s when I’ll be ready to go back out there.”
House said that the time off from the game helped him reset not just physically, but mentally, as well.
“I was able to go over a lot of stuff that I possibly didn’t have the time to do in games,” House said. “The pressure’s not there; I don’t have eyes on me.”
When asked how House looked on the mound, Gomes laughed. “You tell me, striking out five guys in a row. He was getting ahead of guys and even when he got behind one, he came back and struck him out.”
“I know guys are going to say you can’t take too much into it,” Gomes said. “But seeing him throw strikes and keeping the ball down and moving back and forth was really good to see.”
Gomes was perhaps the more impressive rehab assignment to see in Lake County on Friday, as he aggressively tackled his timetable for reinstatement with the team. Gomes has been on the DL since he suffered from a sprained MCL on April 11. Initially, Gomes was said to be out for at least six to eight weeks as he healed. However, he began his rehab after sitting for only about five weeks.
“That’s my competitive mentality,” Gomes said. “You tell me six to eight weeks and I’m like, ‘No chance.’ It just feels like a long time. I was just trying to do anything I could to get back out there, but I’m still respecting the fact that I did have a significant injury so I have to take it slow.”
The loss of Gomes has been a difficult pill for the Indians to swallow and the ramifications of his absence could very likely be vaster than could have initially been imagined. Gomes was a member of the 2013 Goon Squad and quickly rose to fame in his own right last season, when he amazed both his teammates and Indians fans with a breakout year.
Last season, Gomes hit .278 in 135 games. He knocked in 74 runs on 135 hits including 25 doubles, three triples, and 21 home runs. He ended the season with a Silver Slugger award, joining teammate Michael Brantley in earning the honor.
Gomes proved himself to be one of the best defensive catchers in the game and was also highly regarded by his pitchers. The loss of Gomes not only offensively at the plate but behind the dish, as well, is noticed. Although the Indians have been able to rely on Roberto Perez and Brett Hayes behind the plate, they are no true replacements for Gomes.
“It just makes things a lot easier,” House said of pitching to Gomes in Lake County on Friday. “I think people underestimate a little bit the ability of the catcher back there. For me, I know I can trust anything he puts down. Obviously, it’s different because we don’t have scouting reports and those other things, but Yan is good at reading hitters and seeing what their approach is, how they’re reacting to [the ball], how they’re swinging. It’s nice. It was a little more comfortable for me out there. I didn’t have to worry about, ‘Which pitch am I going to throw?’ I’m glad we went through a lot of what we did. It helps with the confidence.”
“I think it’s a big lift for everybody,” said Francona. “Look at his ascension in a short period of time. He was a guy that we didn’t even know could catch and he ends up coming to your team, takes over for the everyday guy and now he’s a huge leader on our team and he should be.
“The more guys look to him, the better we are. And when he’s gone, you find out you miss him.”
With no plan set in stone – “It was really however I felt coming into it,” Gomes said – Gomes ended up catching for the Captains on Friday night and went 2-2 on the evening. He hit a hard single in the first inning and scored on a single from Taylor Murphy, showing no hesitation in rounding the bases. He hit a leadoff single in the third inning and advanced to second on a passed ball, and said that his base running felt good.
“From warming up and everything, I was extremely nervous,” Gomes said of his outing. “It was like Opening Day again. It’s been a long while, but it felt really good playing.”
Gomes said he felt comfortable behind the plate, but acknowledged that it would take further work, such as making throws to second, to see how well he is truly progressing.
“It hasn’t felt like a month,” Gomes said of his time on the DL. “It definitely feels faster than what it’s been. The last couple days, we’ve had some busy days; I was just praying I wasn’t going to hurt or have any type of pain, and I was pumped when I didn’t.”
Gomes is scheduled to be with the Captains through the rest of the weekend and said that he will DH tomorrow.
“I think right now is the important part [of the rehab process],” Gomes said. “You don’t want to think, ‘Okay, I felt good today, let’s get back out there.’ I think it’s still the process of, next time I’ll catch five innings and see how I feel there. I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes or say what trainers don’t want me to say, so I think that whatever the atheletic trainers say, that’s where it goes for me.”
“I’m glad it’s coming to an end,” House said of his time on the DL. “I still find it weird watching the games on TV when we’re on the road. I just want to be there with the team. You win as a team, you lose as a team, and not being able to be there for them, it’s tough.”
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer