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Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Jonny Gomes will be good, eventually

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Jonny Gomes isn't hitting. He assumes you've noticed. He expects it's making you anxious. He thinks you should know that it's happened before. And that better days are coming. They always have.

Not only for him, but for the Red Sox. Worried?

"You're not going to hear it around here," Gomes said. "You'd think we were undefeated around here.

"Hey, I was with a team that was 13 games out in mid-August last year," he said, referring to his year in Oakland. "I was in first place for four innings, and we went to the playoffs. If people are looking for a panic button, I don't have one."

Jonny Gomes
Jonny Gomes' RBI single against the Rays snapped an 0-for-13 skid.

And that was before the Red Sox scored eight runs in the third inning, Stephen Drew hit a grand slam, Dustin Pedroia had two hits, and Gomes broke an 0-for-13 slide with an RBI single in Wednesday's 9-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

"Last year at this time? I was right about where I am right now," said Gomes, who raised his average to .188 with a 1-for-3 night Wednesday, when the Sox faced his good friend and former Tampa Bay teammate David Price. "It's tough right now. Unfortunately, it's my job."

The Red Sox hired Gomes to hit left-handers. That has happened very intermittently so far this season. On April 30 in Toronto, he hit a pinch home run off Blue Jays reliever Aaron Loup. Last Wednesday in Fenway Park, he hit a grand slam off Twins left-hander Pedro Hernandez. Overall, he came into Wednesday's game batting just .171 (6-for-35) against lefties, including Tuesday night, when Matt Moore of the Rays struck him out twice and popped him out between K's.

The numbers don't lie. Except when they do.

Last season, Gomes was batting .212 on June 9, in 132 plate appearances. Only once in the last six years has he batted higher than .220 in the month of April. May hasn't been much better, except for 2010 when he hit .364. Otherwise, it's been .160, .222. .180, .375 (in just 16 at-bats) and .147 since 2008.

These are not numbers that excite the imagination. These are numbers that Gomes has learned to live with, and to some extent ignore. He knows it won't make you happy to hear that.

"It's what people look at," he said. "On a baseball card, you look at the stats, the first number after your name is average. Always. But what I need is consistent at-bats. If I get four hits today, I'm hitting .250. So when you're a part-time player or platoon player, don't look at numbers with decimal points. Don't look at numbers that go up and down.

"Sixty at-bats, two home runs, seven RBIs, X amount of runs scored, that's what you look at it, the numbers that don't go up and down when you're a part-time player."

The stats crunchers call those the counting numbers, and give them less weight than the numbers that have a decimal point and go up and down. When you're in and out of the lineup, Gomes said, those are the numbers hardest to maintain.

By the end of last season, all of Gomes's numbers were outstanding against lefties: .299 batting average, .413 on-base average, .561 slugging percentage, 10 doubles, 11 home runs and 26 RBIs in just 164 at-bats. It's why the Sox signed him to a two-year, $10 million contract last winter. That, and his track record as a winner, including trips to the postseason with the Rays (inactive in the '08 postseason), Reds and Athletics in the last five years.

Last season, there were 10 right-handers in the American League who qualified for the ERA title who had ERAs under 4. There also were 10 left-handers, if you count Wei-Yin Chen of the Orioles at 4.02. That doesn't even include lefties like the Sox's Jon Lester, Andy Pettitte of the Yankees, and Derek Holland of the Rangers.

"Funny, the other day a dude was given a spot start," Gomes said. "[Chad] Jenkins. Ever see a left-handed spot starter? No. You're either really good or you're in the bullpen. In my last three starts I got Mark Buehrle -- I don't care what his numbers are, you still don't want to face this guy -- Matt Moore last night, and I'm going to get Price. Then next week in Chicago, I get Chris Sale.

"There's a huge shift right now. The past couple of years we've had dominating left-handers. Mix in things like timing, like the scouting report -- I don't care if I'm hitting .180 or .380, I'm going to get pitched tough."

Sox fans want to see more of the hitter who struck a pose on the cover of Sports Illustrated -- biceps flexed, Boston strong.

"It's hard right now because people kind of panic -- God, is he going to get going? -- but it won't take much," he said.

"Could be today, you know? There'll be a stretch where it'll be ridiculous, I'll be hitting .480 or something. But like I said, when you're a part-time player, don't look at the numbers that go up and down. The only numbers you look at are the ones at the end."

The Sox had lost nine of 11 games before winning Wednesday night. "We've gone through the toughest stretch you can imagine, and we're in second place," Gomes said.

"After what you all went through last year here, would you take where we are right now? Would you take [Clay] Buchholz and Lester 11-0 combined [now 12-0]? Take Big Papi healthy? The shortstop [Drew] healthy? [Mike] Napoli healthy?"

Manager John Farrell said he would. And Gomes, too.

"Jonny's gone through stretches like this throughout his career," Farrell said. "But he's been very good against lefties. We're not looking to abandon him or run away from him against lefties.

"It's important for those players to know we believe in these guys. We like this team. It's our job to help support them and get them back on track, the track they've been very successful on."