CHICAGO — When Jonny Gomes walked into the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse two weeks ago and began to acquaint himself with his teammates, new and old, he came in with an outsider’s view of the organization.
And he didn’t hold back what he thought.
“I was like, ‘Listen, 29 teams are going to finish this season with a loss,’ ” Gomes recalled Wednesday in Chicago. “‘Only one can win the World Series. Outside of that, there’s only two places in the standings: You’re either in first, or you’re not. A game-and-a-half back or 17 1/2 back, you should still be playing the game the same way. That’s what I see here.’ “
As one who endured multiple losing seasons in Tampa Bay, Gomes knows the difference between playing out the string and building toward the future. He saw the latter in Tampa Bay as the Rays advanced to the World Series in 2008, and he sees the same in Washington. After hitting .320 with two homers and a .414 on-base percentage in his first 10 games with the Nationals, he also sees himself as potentially a part of that future.
“Absolutely,” said Gomes, who projects as a Type-B free agent after this season and would yield a draft pick if he declines arbitration from the Nationals.
“But it’s not far-fetched: Bryce Harper plays left,” he added. “Talk about core and future. But at the same time, with my experience and the older that I’ve gotten - I was groomed by a veteran, and I watched vets groom younger guys. I’d be OK with my experience and my time, grooming him to where he could have a long career.”
When the Nationals traded for Gomes, it seemed to be something of a puzzling move. There they were, four games under .500 and 16 games out of first place in the National League East, trading for a veteran right-handed bat off the bench. But the player they got in that transaction has made it seemingly a win-win deal for Washington.
If Gomes puts up numbers like he has been, enjoys his surroundings and the idea of possibly being a fourth outfielder in 2012, he can accept arbitration and the Nationals will have a quality player locked up for the year. If he declines, he’ll become a free agent and they’ll net a compensation draft pick. Both sides will part ways happy.
That was a little further down the road than Gomes’ thinking Wednesday, though, as the Nationals prepared to take on the Chicago Cubs. Gomes was starting for the fourth straight game, the result of a combination of Laynce Nix having the flu over the weekend and Gomes’ hot hitting. In the past three games, Gomes is 5-for-12 with two homers, a double and a walk.
“Several things influenced my decision,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “No. 1, Nixy was sick. No. 2 he was struggling a little bit. No. 3 , Gomes just came over here and I wanted to get him comfortable on the ballclub so I want to play him - and I also believe in the hot hand. He’s been hitting the heck out of the ball since he’s been in the lineup, and I’m going to stick with him.”
While Gomes and Nix are close friends as well as former platoon partners from their days in Cincinnati, you won’t find the outfielder complaining about the extra at-bats as he acclimates himself to a new team.
“If you were write a book on the secret of hitting, it would be: get on time, swing at strikes and take balls,” Gomes said. “End of book.”
“At the same time, I think the hardest thing to do in the big leagues is platoon and pinch hit,” he added. “What it doesn’t allow you to do is make adjustments and that’s what this game is all about, the quickest to adjustments.
“When you play every day, 0-for-2 with two walks? That’s all right. You can live for tomorrow. You saw a lot of pitches. Boom, get a hit in your first at-bat and you’re 1-for-3 with two walks, just like that. But when you’re playing once a week, you sit on that 0-for-2, you sit on that 0-for-4. You go 3-for-4 and then you sit on that as well. To be able to have consistent at-bats and be able to be on time (is so important).”