The Cleveland Indians took a major hit on April 11 when their starting catcher, Yan Gomes, took a big hit in a home plate collision against the Detroit Tigers. The play left Gomes with a sprained right MCL and left the Tribe scrambling to replace one of the more valuable players on the roster.
In 2014, after breaking out in Cleveland the prior year, Gomes showed how key he is to any hope the Indians have of postseason contention. He is as good as they come on offense, as attested by the American League Silver Slugger he was awarded a season ago. He is also an excellent handler of the pitching staff as Cleveland and its fans have learned in his absence.
The worth of Gomes on offense is obvious. Last year, his first one as an everyday starter, the catcher mashed 21 home runs, drove in 74 and batted .278. It was continued growth after his first campaign with the Tribe in which he hit 11 bombs and hit .294 in 2013. He did not begin that season as the starting catcher, after being acquired in an offseason trade with the Blue Jays. However, by the end of that year, Gomes was starting and was a big reason the Indians earned a spot in the American League Wild Card Game.
What was less obvious than his offensive abilities, where what Gomes could do behind the dish. As a rookie with Toronto in 2012, the Jays were not fully committed to having Gomes as a catcher. While he did play the backstop role, Toronto also had him play first base, third base and left field. He was not considered a strong defensive catcher.
Gomes’ perceived short-comings on defense were the reason he did not start the 2013 season in Cleveland. Tribe management believed his bat was Major League ready, but his defense and game-calling needed work. It was not until Lou Marson got hurt that Gomes got his chance.
Gomes took the chance by the reigns and has obviously run with it. He has allowed the Indians to move Carlos Santana, a former catcher, away from a position that seemed to wear him out.
In the final two months of last season and the first two months of this one, it has become somewhat clearer as to what Gomes has even meant to Cleveland’s pitchers throwing to him and trusting what he is calling for them to throw.
Cleveland’s starting pitching was as good as any in the game last August and September, with much credit given to Gomes. Without Gomes for much of this seasons, so far, the Indians starts have faltered at times. Kluber had his worst stretch in two years, although he has performed back to his CY Young level over his last two outings. The rest of the rotation has been up-and-down, as opposed to last season’s final two months when it seemed like a good starting performance was happening on a nightly basis.
Gomes has also been quite adept at keeping opposing base stealers in check. He threw out 42 percent of those attempting to swipe a bag in 2013. That number was down to 32 percent last year, but still above the league average of 27 percent. That is far better than the duo of Roberto Perez and Brett Hayes who have tried to man the catching fort until Gomes returns. The backup pair is each throwing out 22 percent, or below league average, of base thieves.
Needless to say, the Indians could really use the return of Gomes. Not that Perez and Hayes are horrible. The two have combined for six homers – three each – power numbers similar to what you might expect from Gomes. The problem is, they have done little else offensively. Perez is hitting .176 in 28 games, while Hayes, a journeyman backup, is batting .171.
When Gomes does get back, Perez will go back to his backup role that he flourished in last year. A season ago, Perez was a rookie off the bench and hit a respectable .271 while throwing out 36 percent of stolen base attempts. He is likely pressing in the starting job. Hayes will likely be optioned to the minor or released.
The good news is Gomes is close to returning. The initial prognosis on the MCL was that he would miss 6-8 weeks. This Saturday will mark six weeks. Gomes recently began a minor league rehab assignment. He played two games with Single-A Lake County before going to Triple-A Columbus. He caught five innings on Monday night and took Tuesday off.
The schedule was to have him catch seven frames last night and play designated hitter tonight. The Indians will evaluate from there. If all goes well, Gomes could be back in the middle of the Tribe order by early next week, getting him back on the early side of the expected return time-frame.
Cleveland’s offense and pitching staff can definitely use him. The offense, especially. Other than this past weekend series against Texas when the bats broke out, the lineup has struggled. Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley have been the only two consistent hitters in the batting order this season. Getting a third guy the lineup can count on would help tremendously to put a charge into the offense.
In recent games, the pitching staff has appeared to be coming back to form. Gomes can only help further that. The way he handles the staff and helps keep a pitcher’s mind off base runners is huge. The whole throwing out base runners is big because the pitcher can focus more on the batter than throwing to first for a pick off, knowing Gomes can mow a runner down.
Gomes is a key part of the Tribe and a care player, as evidenced by the long-term contract signed before the 2014 season. Gomes has guaranteed deal through 2019 with two team option years after. Cleveland plans to have the 27-year-old behind the plate for a long time. There is no question the team trusts him as one of its central figures.
When healthy, the Indians actually have one of the better catching situations in the game. Gomes is arguable a top-5 catcher and Perez is an excellent reserve backstop. The Indians and Gomes are looking forward, no doubt, to that return to full health and return to games in the Majors. He will be a welcome addition whether that is in a couple days or another week. We can only hope for sooner rather than later with Gomes on the comeback trail.
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