Gimenez's leap of faith paid dividends for swing
Catcher remade his stance, came back from Triple-A on fire to end '12
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Chris Gimenez didn't like the direction in which his career was headed, so he took a leap of faith.
Now the candidate for the Rays' second catcher's position hopes the product of that bold move will lead to his earning the job. This, despite the fact he still has a Minor League option, which makes him a long shot.
Gimenez, 30, split the 2012 season between Triple-A Durham and the Rays. But it wasn't until after he was optioned to Durham on May 28 for his final tour of duty with the Bulls that he decided to make a change to his swing.
"I pretty much threw my old swing in the dumpster," Gimenez said. "I know it was a leap of faith, but I knew I had to do something when I got sent down because it was ugly and kind of the same old thing. I'd start out good and continue to go downhill. I'd lose the feel for whatever I had. It was frustrating.
"I sat down with [hitting coach] Dave Myers in Triple-A and talked about some stuff, where I was and where I needed to be. We just kind of took that into the game and it just sort of exploded."
Gimenez noted that while the adjustment he made was simple, it proved effective for him.
"I just kind of keep my bat on my shoulder, lifting up and out," said Gimenez while offering a demonstration. "I'm basically on my tippy toes, which keeps me on the inside of my legs and I don't fly open as much. And all I'm trying to do is hit the ball up the middle or the other way.
"If my thought process is to pull the ball, I start flying open. I really do feel like I'm in a pretty strong position there and I can do a little bit of damage every once in a while."
Gimenez hit .310 at Durham with 10 home runs and 49 RBIs in 71 games. On Aug. 31, the Rays recalled Gimenez. Putting his new mechanics on display, he hit .406 with three doubles, a home run and five RBIs in 18 games to finish out the season.
"That was huge," Gimenez said. "I don't even have the words to describe that. Every time you fail, and for a couple of years I've failed, which gives you doubts in the back of your head. Like, 'Am I good enough to play here?'
"Your mind is telling you one thing and then it's telling you something else. It's that mental game. But coming up here and having some success, in the middle of a pennant race and playing in meaningful games, it gave me a little bit of confidence that they were throwing me in there in those games. It was just so nice to have a little bit of success to where I was like, 'Now I know I can do this. I just have to continue doing it.'"
Gimenez's work at the end of last season impressed Joe Maddon, but this spring he's been able to impress the Rays' manager even more.
"He's even better this year," Maddon said. "His approach has gotten really solid. He has a much better idea about what he wants to do and he's doing it every day. He's taking his BP into the games. When guys are able to do that they have a pretty good idea about what they're doing with their swing. He's had a great camp. He's done a nice job at third base, too."
Unfortunately for Gimenez, he does have that option, which means the Rays can send him down to Triple-A Durham and not have to worry about losing him to another team. Meanwhile, Jose Lobaton, the catcher Gimenez is competing against, is out of options. He's also a switch-hitter. It should be noted that the position of catcher is physically demanding, so keeping depth at the position within the organization is important.
"The old option thing always does hurt certain players, whereas sometimes a guy without them it does benefit him," Maddon said. "I'll never deny that.
"[Gimenez is] having a really good spring. And it's a great carryover from the way he ended last season. … You're not just seeing him do well now. You saw him do well at the end of last season. And that's the part that sticks with me. And doing well when we were trying to get into the playoffs and we had a lot riding on them. And he played very well. And you have to remember all of that when you go to make your final decision. But you can't deny that options vs. no options can benefit somebody and hurt somebody."
Thus, Gimenez must operate under a dark cloud of knowing that even if he outplays Lobaton this spring, there's a good chance he'll still be the odd man out once the final roster is set.
"It is what it is," Gimenez said. "You can't deny it. Yeah, it stinks, but what are you going to do? You can't play like, 'It doesn't matter what I do, I'm going to be sent down anyway.' That might not be the case. I just have to go out there and do what I'm capable of doing on that day. The decision is not in my hands, but I want to play well enough so that it's a tough decision for them to make."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.