Jim Souhan: Gomez's sporadic electricity needs to be re-routed in lineup

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 21, 2008 - 12:26 PM

Now that the Twins have an alternative at leadoff, it's time to drop Carlos Gomez in the order.

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Twins outfielder Carlos Gomez took out his frustration on an ice chest after he popped out on a bunt attempt in the sixth inning.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Minneapolis Star Tribune

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Twins manager Ron Gardenhire spent the All-Star break on the lakes.

One day, he sneaked away to nap in a mobile home and ran into a protruding section of the vehicle, gashing his forehead.

That was unintentional.

In the three games since the break, Gardenhire has voluntarily smacked his head against a proverbial wall by continuing to bat Carlos Gomez in the leadoff spot of an otherwise surging lineup.

"He's lightning in a bottle," Gardenhire said of Go-Go. "He makes contact, gets on base, anything can happen."

The reference to Gomez getting on base is encouraging. It is an indication that Gardenhire's long-term memory did not suffer from his run-in with the malevolent mobile home during the break.

Of 168 major league players who qualify for the batting title, Gomez ranks 163rd -- and last among all leadoff men -- in on-base percentage, at .285.

Batting Gomez leadoff is like playing Marko Jaric at point guard, making Adrian Peterson back up Chester Taylor, or trading for Chris Simon. Not that anyone would be silly enough to make those decisions.

Gomez is remarkably fast, and he has displayed stunning range in center field. He seems to be a competitive, good-hearted kid. He's just not a leadoff hitter.

Sunday, in a 1-0 loss to Texas, Gomez's usual flaws twice cost the Twins. In the sixth, he followed Denard Span's walk by popping up a bunt. The next batter, Alexi Casilla, slashed a ball down the first-base line that resulted in a double play. Had Gomez bunted Span to second, the first baseman would have been playing off the line and that ball would have produced a run, perhaps started a game-winning inning.

In the ninth, facing mediocre Rangers closer C.J. Wilson, Gomez led off with a three-pitch strikeout, twice swinging so hard his head spun. In a situation that begged for a baserunner, Gomez gave himself no chance to reach.

The Twins have succeeded in many ways, and for many years, by refusing to overanalyze statistics, by going with gut instincts and old-school baseball philosophies. Sometimes, though, the numbers can't be ignored.

Span takes longer and better at-bats, and his on-base percentage is .411. He should be batting leadoff, with Gomez moved to ninth in the order. And if Gomez keeps slumping, he might even benefit from a trip to Class AAA when Michael Cuddyer returns from injury.

Let's leaven this criticism with perspective.

Back when the Twins looked like a rebuilding team, batting Gomez leadoff made sense, in terms of nurturing a young player and providing entertainment. Gomez often resembled unbottled lightning, and fans all over Minnesota hustled to the TV to catch his blink-or-you'll-miss-'em at-bats.

As Gomez has slumped, Gardenhire has reasoned that he doesn't want to harm Gomez's confidence by benching him or dropping him in the order, that the leadoff spot is truly only the leadoff spot once a game, and that he doesn't want to alter a lineup that has thrived.

Gardenhire might be doing the best work of a remarkably successful career. The Twins should not be 12 games over .500 with this odd collection of players.

In this case, though, the manager is thinking too hard. Gomez is supremely confident and might even benefit from batting later in the order, where he would feel less pressure and could watch the pitcher for eight at-bats before taking his first swings.

And Gardenhire knows what happened when Shannon Stewart, a good-but-not-great leadoff man, came to the Twins in the middle of the 2003 season. The entire lineup improved when Stewart replaced Jacque Jones at the top, improving the on-base percentage in the leadoff spot and allowing Jones to take his Gomez-like hacks lower in the order.

Gomez has struck out 98 times in 392 at-bats. He is headed for the Twins' record for strikeouts in a season. Right now, Span clearly is a better leadoff hitter.

Sadly, saying Gomez is fun to watch when he reaches base is like saying John Daly is a good golfer when he's skinny and sober.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • jsouhan@startribune.com¶

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