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Carlos Gomez makes a power play

June 4, 2013

MILWAUKEE — Years ago, Carlos Gomez had a tendency to irritate Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. But it was more about what he didn’t do, than what he did.

For all the tools and energy the speedy young center fielder had, there existed that much more untapped potential. Just keeping Gomez playing under control was a challenge in itself.

“I think everybody knew it, from the time he was with the Mets, how much talent he had,” Gardenhire said. “(The question was) if he could ever harness it and calm himself down enough. 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.”

Instead of irritating his own manager, Gomez now is causing headaches for the opposition.

Currently in his fourth year with the Milwaukee Brewers, the enthusiastic 27-year-old has put in a lot of work toward making himself a more well rounded player. He now more closely resembles the prototypical five-tool player that Gomez was expected to be when coming up in the New York Mets’ minor league system.

He’s hitting for average (.331) and power (10 home runs and a .611 slugging percentage). He’s got plus-speed (nine steals and three triples), plays league-leading defense in center field and has as strong an arm as you’ll see.

That wasn’t always the case.

When he arrived in Minnesota as a part of the 2008 trade that sent two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana to New York, Gomez showed proficiency in only three of those tools. With the Twins, he was a speedy, light-hitting young outfielder.

He had the best ultimate zone rating (UZR) of any center fielder in baseball during his two seasons with the Twins, thanks in large part to his range.

But the offense wasn’t there.

Gomez hit just .258 in his first full major league season with a .296 on-base percentage. When he did get on base, he managed to steal 33 bases in 44 attempts, which ranked seventh in the American League.

Much of it stemmed from a lack of discipline at the plate and proper understanding of situational baseball.

“He was loose cannon No. 1,” Gardenhire said. “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.”

Gomez’s speed made it natural for teams and coaches early in his career to direct his focus toward putting the ball in play and letting his speed do the rest. But that approach never translated into much in the way of production for Gomez.

Whereas league leaders in on-base percentage tend to be around the .400 mark, Gomez had never gotten on base even 30 percent of the time until last season. His .260 average, 19 home runs and 37 stolen bases in 2012 also marked career highs.

The change came in the second half of last season, when Gomez began taking a more aggressive approach at the plate. Over his final 67 games, Gomez hit .281 with 14 home runs and 33 RBIs, while also stealing 22 bases in 25 attempts.

From that point through Sunday’s game, Gomez has hit .302 with 23 homers and 58 RBIs over a span of 115 games.

“I always think to drive the ball to the middle of the field and hit a home run,” Gomez said of his approach. “And that’s what happens when you have a flat swing, hit the ball hard and you see the ball good. A lot of good things can happen when you do that.”

Gomez hit a pair of solo home runs Saturday, accounting for the Brewers’ only runs in a 5-2 loss to the Pirates. He got around on a cutter up and in to hit the first one to left, and belted a fastball over the middle to right-center field for the second, notching his first career multi-homer game.

Even after watching video of the first home run, Gomez said he had no idea how he hit it. That ability to put the ball over the fence even when mishitting a pitch gives an idea of just what power Gomez possesses.

“If you go out and watch batting practice, he’s got as much raw power as anybody in the game,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. “It’s a big advantage versus the guys that everything has to go perfect for them to hit it (out). He’s just gifted.”

Gomez’s multi-homer game Monday was even more impressive.

He hit a pair of no-doubters, crushing a changeup 436 feet to the second deck in left field in the fourth inning and depositing a slider 405 feet into the bullpen in left-center in the sixth. More importantly, though, Monday’s homers had a bigger impact on the game.

The first cut the Brewers’ deficit to 2-1 and the second made it 4-3.

While it remains to be seen if Gomez can maintain this success over the course of the season, it’s clear his more aggressive approach is paying off so far.

“Before, they threw mistakes and I’d be more trying to hit a ball on the ground and not realize what special power I have,” Gomez said. “I thought only to put the ball on the ground and run, but now I’m free to swing. I do my stuff. I do me. I try hit the ball hard every swing. One strike, two strikes, it’s all the same.”

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