MILWAUKEE — For a guy who seemingly is in a hurry to do everything, Carlos Gomez has taken his own sweet time reaching his potential.
But after five on-and-off seasons with three major league teams, could Gomez finally be on the verge of living up to expectations?
The Milwaukee Brewers apparently are ready to find out. After splitting time in center field over most of his first 2½ seasons in Milwaukee, Gomez has started 12 of the past 13 games and figures to get the bulk of the playing time the rest of the season.
“As long as he keeps playing the way he is we’re going to try to play him more than I have in the past,” manager Ron Roenicke said last week in the wake of Gomez being named National League Co-Player of the Week. “He keeps showing you those exciting tools and, hopefully, he puts it together.
“We really like him. We like his energy, we like the way he plays out there. He can do some exciting things. Carlos is the type of guy who has so much upside that if he does get it together, there’s a guy you’re going to want for a lot of years.”
That’s what the New York Mets thought when Gomez was coming up in their farm system — right up until they traded him to the Minnesota Twins as part of the package for Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.
The Twins embraced Gomez as their center fielder of the present for 2008, when he had a career-high 577 at-bats. But he took a step back the following year, leading the Twins to reduce his playing time and then trade him to the Brewers after the season for shortstop J.J. Hardy.
And while he’s had several extended opportunities, he’s never been able to establish himself as an everyday player with the Brewers.
Gomez is determined to change that over the final two months of a largely disappointing season in Milwaukee.
“When the season is over we’ll know,” he said. “I feel really good. I feel right now like I can be the player like everybody’s waiting for. But it’s only one good week. There are still two more months to play and I’m still 26 years old and I still have a long career to go.
“I had a good week, we have to continue practicing hard, working hard every day and then finally I’ll find myself to be the player like I want to be.”
Gomez is batting .347 (17-for-49) with four home runs, 10 RBIs and five stolen bases over the past 12 games. For the season he’s hitting .258 with a career-high nine homers, 28 RBIs and 20 steals.
Always a spectacular defensive player, Gomez has consistently frustrated his teams with his erratic offensive production. His rare combination of speed and power has always suggested potential star, but his on-base percentage (.291 career entering this season) and penchant for striking out have suggested part-time player/defensive replacement.
Often criticized as being stubborn for his swing-from-the-heels approach, Gomez credits hitting coach Johnny Narron for helping him make some adjustments at the plate that have led up to his hot streak. He’s reduced his crouch, raised his hands and added more of a leg kick into his stride.
“You have to change with what they are doing to you,” said Gomez, who has a .380 on-base percentage since the All-Star break. “The last couple weeks I’ve been swinging the bat better. It’s the reason I’m playing more and I appreciate it and want to keep working. I want to continue swinging the bat like that the rest of the season.”
If Gomez does that it will probably come at the expense of Nyjer Morgan, his former platoon partner who has been unable to recapture the mojo of last season when he helped spark the Brewers’ run to the NL Central title.
“He’s had a tough year,” Roenicke said of Morgan, who is batting .231 with three homers and 10 RBIs. “Lately, I haven’t put him in there enough to really get his game going, and I’m not sure that I will.
“We’ll just have to see how things go here. It always makes it tough for a player like him who had a great year last year and is trying to get it back and finish with a great year this year and he’s not in there a lot. You can’t get it back when you’re not playing very much.”