As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 10 days
Losing starting catcher and current wearer of the number ten for the Indians, Yan Gomes, so early in last season was one of the bigger contributing factors to Cleveland’s 81-80 finish in 2015.
His return to health and his return to form will have a similar impact on how the Indians’ 2016 season goes.
Last year was the third in an Indians uniform for Gomes. After a strong half season for Cleveland in 2013, he broke out with a 21-homer, 74-RBI season the following year and was named the AL Silver Slugger Award winner at the catcher’s position. He had followed up an impressive .294 average at the plate with a strong .278 mark, but seemed primed to build upon his prior contributions.
Just five games into the new season, things drastically changed for the Tribe’s backstop as he sprained his right knee late in a loss against the Detroit Tigers when Rajai Davis, now his teammate in Cleveland, slid hard into home plate on a force play at the dish.
The Indians went 17-20 in his absence, originally projected to be six to eight weeks. In his first game back, the club extended a season-high winning streak to its sixth and final game. Had it not been for that sudden hot stretch of play just as Gomes was set to return, the effects of his absence would have been that much uglier.
He scuffled in his first two weeks back, basically going through his own personal spring training again after being shut down so quickly into the year. He hit .417 during a six-game hitting streak early in June, but his .230 average in 20 games for the month showed just how little he contributed the rest of the time. In 77 plate appearances, he had three doubles and three homers, but struck out 23 times and walked just once.
He hit .260 in July in 21 games with six doubles, two homers, and nine RBI, and was strong in the run-production portion of his game in August, driving in 18 runs despite hitting just .209. He closed out the season with a .264 average combined in September and October over 22 games, hitting nine doubles, three homers, and driving in nine while striking out 25 times and drawing no walks.
In the end, he hit just .231 with a .267 on-base percentage in 95 games. He hit 22 doubles and a dozen homers while driving in 45. He struck out 104 times while drawing just 13 walks.
The Indians went 53-42 with him on the field.
The benefits of Gomes to the Tribe lineup far exceed what he brings with him to the plate while in the batter’s box. It is the manner in which he handles the grueling catching duties.
He has consistently been applauded for his game calling and game management skills as well as his pitch framing. His arm should probably be considered a concealed weapon, except when behind the plate and brandishing his hand cannon in throwing out 34% of would-be base stealers, including a 41% mark in his first season in Cleveland. He has limited both passed balls and wild pitches, especially compared to his predecessor Carlos Santana, and he owns a .993 fielding percentage behind the plate in his career. That mark is actually significantly lower than it could have been after a rough five-week stretch to start the 2014 season when he committed nine errors in his first 28 games before committing just five over his final 98, affecting his career mark by nearly three-hundredths of a point.
The injury to Gomes hurt far more than just the offense, especially as the inexperienced Roberto Perez was thrust into a starting role. Several pitchers had particularly rough stretches during the early going, which could have been attributed to kicking off the final remnants of winter rust, or it could have been the process of acclimating to a new receiver. Kluber was strong in several outings early, but had some of his worst games of the season to end April and begin May, although he did find his groove come May 13th in his 18-strikeout performance against the St. Louis Cardinals. Carlos Carrasco had a similar stretch in late April into the middle of May when he was giving up four and five runs a game at times, all while Gomes was healing on the disabled list.
The same could not be said for Danny Salazar after his return from Columbus and Trevor Bauer, but both men may have been more accustomed to Perez already after being teammates with the backup backstop during their time together with the Clippers.
Critics of the Tribe’s potential in 2016 steer fairly clear of the rotation for the most part and instead spend time pondering if the Indians offense can be potent enough to score often enough to win. While several of the offseason additions (Mike Napoli, Juan Uribe, Davis, and possibly Marlon Byrd) should be able to provide a little bit of a boost in the runs department compared to the likes of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Ryan Raburn, Mike Aviles, etc., the Indians need consistent and better production from the returning pieces from 2015.
Gomes is one of those key guys coming back and he needs to achieve his offensive potential to help get the Indians every last win in what could be a very hotly contested American League Central Division this season. Coupled with the defensive side of his game and his work with the pitching staff, Gomes should continue to be considered among the better catchers in baseball today.
He had shown some of that familiar pop so far this spring, hitting three homers and adding a pair of doubles during his action in camp, but missed Wednesday’s game as the flu bug that has circulated the Goodyear complex like the plague has claimed another victim. Hopefully it does not sideline him as long as some of the other afflicted and he can return to preparing for a solid season at and behind the plate for the Indians.
Photo: Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports