On a cloudy August day in 2009, Jonny Gomes stepped to the plate against the Washington Nationals four times. Three times, he homered. Two of the three times, Laynce Nix was on base in front of his right-handed slugging teammate, one of the many triumphant moments the two shared in Cincinnati.
Count Nix, then, as first in line to give his stamp of approval to the Nationals’ latest acquisition — an addition that not only strengthened Washington’s right-handed options off the bench but also reunited the former platoon partners from last year’s NL Central-winning Reds.
“I’ve seen Jonny do a lot of damage,” Nix said with a smile, recalling the day Gomes tagged Collin Balester for two homers and Jason Bergmann for another in a 7-0 rout of Washington.
The newest National settled into his new digs Wednesday afternoon, taking the roster spot and locker space of Matt Stairs. Stairs. The 43-year-old pinch hitter was designated for assignment earlier in the day after hitting .154 in 56 games.
Gomes was not in the starting lineup on his first day in Washington, giving him time, manager Davey Johnson said, to become acclimated to his new surroundings and his new teammates. He’ll be in the lineup Thursday for the series finale against the Florida Marlins.
Gomes talked about his mixed emotions over the last 24 hours: the sadness in leaving a team and a city he’d come to love to join an organization that obviously sought out his services, and a clubhouse filled with players he either knew or admired. It’s the first time Gomes has been traded — but it’s not an altogether unfamiliar situation for him.
“I’m biased to, not so much the underdog, but a sleeper team, if you will,” Gomes said. “I came up with the [Tampa Bay] Rays. In 2007, we broke records we were so bad. In 2008, we went to the World Series. I went over the Reds and such a baseball-rich city and … they hadn’t been to the playoffs in 12 years. In 2010, we won the division and we went to the playoffs.”
Last year, when the Reds were marching to the division title, Gomes and Nix played an integral part. In a left-field platoon, they combined to hit .278 with 20 homers and 94 RBI. While Gomes had 469 at-bats to Nix’s 107, he also hit .333 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
“He was just super-clutch,” Nix said. “He’s a big-game player, and I think he has a lot left in his tank, for sure. … We complement each other. If he’s starting, I’m ready to come in, and he’s the same way. We back each other.”
Gomes mentioned the appeal of playing under a manager with as rich a history as the Nationals’ Johnson and acknowledged that, while his batting average (.211) leaves a little to be desired, his 11 home runs and 31 RBI in 218 at-bats are not too far off from his usual numbers.
“If you were to cover up my average, you’d be like, ‘All right, this guy’s doing all right,’ ” Gomes said. “Then you pull the average and you’re like, ‘What happened?’ “
But his situation in Cincinnati was also somewhat unstable. In about four months, Gomes went from a near every-day player, to a platoon role, to left-handed specialist role. The hope is defining his responsibilities here will help Nix, who still is nursing a sore right Achilles.
“I will communicate what I expect out of him,” Johnson said. “But it really goes back to players, it’s how you use them. Players are pretty smart. They can sense when they’re needed and what their role should be to help this ball club win.
“It’s my job to figure out exactly what his role should be, where he’s going to be best suited for himself and if I do what’s right for him, it’ll be best for the team.”