Gomez raring to 'Go-Go,' finish season with flourish
Injuries have taken toll on Brewers All-Star, but center fielder keeps head up
MILWAUKEE -- Carlos "Go-Go" Gomez was true to his nickname for the first three months of the season. Everything was going well for the Brewers' high-energy center fielder.
While catching everything that came at him -- or in his general vicinity -- and hitting across the board at a career-high pace, Gomez locked up his first All-Star appearance. His reckless abandon for his own body made him a popular Gold Glove choice, and his knack for the big moment made him a fan favorite.
Then the recklessness caught up to Gomez, and a late stop sign was thrown up to "Go-Go."
In late June, a shoulder injury from a collision with the center-field wall kept Gomez out three games, and he missed two more in mid-July with pain in his right elbow. Another run-in with the wall in August left Gomez with a sprained right knee and cost him six more games.
One injury bled into the other, and Gomez, playing most of the last two months at less than 100 percent, has watched his numbers dip.
On July 5, Gomez's batting average sat at .319 -- within 12 points of where it had consistently been since May 20 -- and he was on pace to finish in the range of 25 home runs and 80 RBIs.
Gomez entered Thursday's off-day hitting .212 (33-for-156) since July 5, with six home runs and 16 RBIs, putting his season output at 19 home runs and 57 RBIs and lowering his batting average to .283 with 23 games left.
Now regularly seen postgame draped with bags of ice on his right elbow, right knee and left shoulder, Gomez has not lifted his average above .300 since July 31.
"It's tough, you know, to be healthy completely and play at the level that I'm supposed to," said Gomez, who noted he has also dealt with a nagging thumb injury. "It's part of the job. It's going to happen for everybody, and especially a guy like me. I'm always running hard, really aggressive. We try to work and prepare your body to avoid all that kind of stuff like that, but when this happens, it happens."
It has happened often for Gomez, and given his style of play, No. 27 manning center field at Miller Park has not looked the same for some time. At times, he has looked hesitant to make a play that fans have become so accustomed to watching him make time and time again. Gomez lives for those plays: diving to make a catch and save a run, using his speed to take the extra base.
On July 9, Gomez robbed a potential game-winning Joey Votto home run as the final out of a 4-3 Brewers win.
"When you make a great catch to save a big game, it's emotional," Gomez said. "Like when you steal a base in the moment, like you score a big run. When you hit a base hit and we win. Things like that. When you are the MVP of the game, it's all exciting. Whatever it is that day for you to help win games."
That's the type of play that put Gomez on top of the world, and that's the type of play missing during his fall the last two months.
|"No frustration. He's a professional, and he's locked in to what he wants to do for the team, and what he wants to do for himself. I see nothing but positive things, and him believing in what he's doing and moving forward."|
|-- Brewers hitting coach Johnny Narron, on Gomez|
But even with his multiple nagging injuries as the anchor dragging his defense, Gomez maintains that he feels good at the plate, like on Wednesday when he flew out to the warning track and lined out, while finishing 1-for-5 with a bunt single against the Pirates.
Before Wednesday's finale game, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke pointed out the effect a spiraling batting average can have on a player.
"I think it bothers everybody when they know where they were and they look as they're coming down," Roenicke said. "Some guys look at it too much, and when you look at it too much, it's hard to stop it from coming down. And then other guys can look at it and just know that once they get it going, it's going to go in the other direction. It seems like it comes down a lot faster than it goes up."
Despite his downward trend, Gomez can't help but keep a close eye on the numbers.
"I can never stop putting numbers in my head," he said. "Like, you know, ways to 40 stolen bases, try to finish over .300. Because I'm at .285, it's like two really good series and I can get it to .300 close to the end. And, you know, 20-plus home runs. When I hit 20, it's an attractive number. My goal right now, is to try to reach individual personal numbers. Like home runs, I've tied my career high, and I'm close to putting up a special number, and try to get 40 stolen bases. It's only eight away. The goal is to hit .300."
Even with his subpar stretch, Gomez is having a career year. His .283 average is 23 points higher than the career-high .260 mark he hit last season, and his 19 home runs ties last season's career-best total, while he needs just three RBIs to reach 60 for the first time in his seven-year career. Gomez has stolen 32 bases, five off his career high set in '12, and his .337 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage are each easily career bests.
Brewers hitting coach Johnny Narron saw Gomez's ceiling rise after last season's breakthrough in his third year with the club and seventh year in the league.
"The last year was a coming-out year for him, a breakthrough year for him," Narron said. "He came out, obviously, and started really well [this season]. Recently, if you go back and look at the balls put in play, he's hitting the ball well, but it's been caught. That's the way it happens sometimes. He's in a good place right now mentally. We continue his routine, we continue his process, because it is a process for him. But he's following it, he believes in it, and it's just moving forward for him.
"As his hitting coach, I fully expected [this season's success] from the year he had last year. He showed himself and he showed us the true baseball player that he is."
What Gomez is not, Narron said, is frustrated.
"No frustration," Narron said. "He's a professional, and he's locked in to what he wants to do for the team, and what he wants to do for himself. I see nothing but positive things, and him believing in what he's doing and moving forward."
During a home-and-away series against the Twins in late May, Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire recalled a less mature Gomez from his 2008-09 seasons in the Twin Cities.
"He was a loose cannon, No. 1," Gardenhire said. "I liked how he used to fake bunt. He'd tell us he was going to draw the guy in, the third baseman in. The third baseman was already in for the bunt. We said, 'Go-Go, you don't need to fake bunt and draw him in, he's already standing in there.' So then he would fake bunt, fake swing, fake bunt, all on one pitch. That's what we loved about him.
"You never want to take away a guy playing the game with the enthusiasm that he plays it with, but some of the things he had to clean up. It sounds like he has. He got down to understanding what he's about as a player, and with all the ability, that's a dangerous thing. He can do some damage. He can swing it, he's got a cannon, he can run. He's got all the tools. It's just a matter of harnessing it all and putting it to work in the right way."
Gomez had that down, and he looks to get "Go-Go" moving again in the last month of the season.
"I'm not happy yet," Gomez said. "Still 25 more games to play, and anything can happen with 25 more to play, you know?"
Kevin Massoth is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.