Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 7 – Yan Gomes

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Countdown to Opening Day – 7

If there was one glaring and consistent issue on the Indians roster from the beginning of the season until the end of the World Series, it was the offensive production lacking from behind the plate.

Injuries decimated the Tribe’s catching position throughout the season, as the club lost both starter Yan Gomes and his backup Roberto Perez for long stretches of the campaign with ailments that landed each on the disabled list. It led to Perez returning from a broken thumb quicker than hoped and significant playing time for veteran Chris Gimenez, who rejoined the Indians for the third time in his career in May and logged a career-high 67 games over the course of the season.

Cleveland backstops combined for a .185/.244/.320 slash line in 2016, with the squad’s batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS ranking dead last among all 30 teams in the Majors. The group accounted for just 100 hits, also worst in baseball, and hit into a combined 19 double plays, tied for sixth-most in the game. If there was one thing that they were able to do well at the plate, it was their ability to sacrifice, as their nine on the season was third-best in the league and MLB, which may have been much more a reflection on their inability to put the ball in play and move a runner up when swinging the bat.

Tim Warner/Getty Images
Tim Warner/Getty Images

While the Indians were able to accept the missing production in the lineup from the catching position, there is little doubt that an improved performance from their game callers would go a long way in helping the team return to the postseason for a second straight season. That effort will need to come primarily from Gomes, who returns to Cleveland for a fifth year and a fourth straight season as the team’s starting catcher and a player needing a strong return to his former self.

The injury bug has been a persistent pest for Gomes over the last several seasons, as he has lost significant playing time with a variety of health issues. Worse, when presumed healthy in the early going last season, his bat was dead weight in the lineup, a troubling issue for someone who had hit .294 in 88 games in his first season in Cleveland in 2013 and followed it up with a .278 average in 135 games the next year.

Gomes hit .231 in 95 games in 2015, with a slight bump to a .267 on-base percentage with just 13 walks in 389 plate appearances on the season. More troubling was a jump in his strikeout rate, which jumped 3.5% to 26.7% of his total plate appearances. He did make up for the high rate of K and a low walk rate with some good power numbers, as he had 22 doubles and 12 homers. The two-baggers were just three short of his career-high set in 40 more games the previous season, while his homer production was slightly off the pace he set when hitting 21 in 2014, the season that he was named the Silver Slugger Award winner at the position.

Gomes never really got going at the plate in 2016. He hit .200 in April with three doubles and three homers while driving in eleven, but he hit just .148 in May with equal output for doubles and homers while driving in 14. He added four doubles and two homers in June with just five RBI while hitting .212, but much of his production for the month came during a six-game hitting streak from June 18 to June 26.

The bat was back cold again in July after a single on July 3 against his former Toronto club. For a spell of nine games (eight with a plate appearance), he was hitless with just a walk and an RBI to his credit. He ended the 0-for-27 skid with a third inning double against Minnesota on July 17, but in his very next at bat, he was injured tumbling over first base while trying to leg out a grounder to third. He crashed to the playing surface and was later diagnosed with a separated right shoulder.

The luck only worsened for Gomes, who was back on the field on September 2 for the Double-A Akron RubberDucks while working through his rehab assignment. While playing in the Eastern League playoffs in what was expected to be his final at bat before being activated from the disabled list, he was hit by a pitch in the right wrist and suffered a non-displaced fracture, an injury that should have ended his season.

Instead, Gomes gutted it out and was back in the Indians lineup on September 30 for the final series of the regular season against the Kansas City Royals. He worked several innings behind the plate in a pair of games before getting a start in the season finale. Playing through discomfort and in his first plate appearance in a month and a half, he slugged the first offering he saw from Royals starter Ian Kennedy over the wall in left to give the Indians a 2-1 lead in a 3-2 win.

He appeared sparingly in the postseason, a member of the roster for both the ALDS and ALCS while not seeing the field once as Perez handled all of the catching duties. He made it into four different games of the World Series and registered an at bat in each game, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a double play ball.

It was largely a second straight lost season for Gomes, but the most recent one stood out as a far more discouraging trend, given his difficulties at the plate prior to his injury problems. Health and production will remain the keys for Gomes going forward, as the Indians have a viable replacement in house in Perez and a top prospect in catcher Francisco Mejia waiting in the wings at Akron.

If this spring is any indication (and one must always take spring results good or bad with a grain of salt), Gomes is feeling more confident at the plate. Through 15 games of action, he is hitting .342 with a .419 on-base percentage and .605 slugging mark with four doubles, two homers, and three RBI. He has drawn four walks and has cut back on his strikeouts, with just seven in his 43 plate appearances thus far in camp.

Other notable 7’s in Indians historyCharlie Jamieson (1929), Odell Hale (1931), Hal Trosky (1934-41), Al Rosen (1948-56), John Romano (1964), Joe Azcue (1967), Kenny Lofton (1992-2007), Brandon Phillips (2003-05), Matt LaPorta (2009-12), David Murphy (2014-15)

Photo: Norm Hall/Getty Images

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