Jonny Gomes spent the much of his first four seasons in the big leagues as a designated hitter, leaving his glove in his locker and the desire to show he could catch baseballs as well as he could hit them.
Fewer questions will exist about Gomes‘ abilities with the glove after his catch in left field on Thursday night to help the Washington Nationals past the Cincinnati Reds, 3-1.
Last month, Gomes was acquired from the Reds in exchange for two minor leaguers to give the Nationals another bat off the bench. They got a glove, too.
With a scoreless game in the fifth inning at Nationals Park, Reds‘ slugger Joey Votto lined a pitch toward the left-field corner. What happened next seemed to occur in a flash. At a full sprint, Gomes snagged the ball, took three steps and crashed face-first into the wall next to the 336-foot marker. He didn't even try to slow down.
"I was a little worried," manager Davey Johnson deadpanned, "he might hurt the wall."
The collision, surprisingly, did not leave an indentation in the shape of Gomes — or his trademark mohawk — in the wall. Gomes felt there was no alternative other than going straight at the wall. If he missed the ball or played it off the wall, Votto would ease into second base with a double.
How hard was the wall?
"I definitely found out today," said Gomes, speaking as if crashing into walls is an everyday occurrence. "When you've got guys like that, big hitters, you've got to be light on your feet."
The catch kept scuffling starter Jordan Zimmermann in the game. The right-hander scattered six hits and two walks, with one strikeout, over 5 2/3 innings, and admitted he didn't have his best stuff. But he managed to escape without allowing a run.
An inning after the catch, Gomes provided the offensive difference. He lined a 1-0 pitch from Bronson Arroyo into left field to score a pair of runs, and give the Nationals a 3-0 lead. Jesus Flores' home run in the fifth accounted for the first run. Four Nationals' relievers did the rest — with only an unearned run scoring in the seventh.
"That was a lifesaver," Zimmermann said of Gomes' catch. "For sure."
-- A Nationals spokesman confirmed Bryce Harper strained his right hamstring during Double-A Harrisburg's game with Akron on Thursday. Harper will be reevaluated Friday.
-- Johnson spoke with general manager Mike Rizzo on Thursday to clarify plans for Zimmermann. Originally limited to 160 innings this season as he returns from Tommy John surgery, Zimmermann will make two more starts this season. Already at 149 2/3 innings, Zimmermann could exceed the 160-inning total during the final starts. But Johnson confirmed that's OK with Rizzo.
-- Reliever Ryan Mattheus was removed from the game to start the seventh inning because of tightness in his right shoulder. He's day-to-day.
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