Gomes' shoulder improving with rehab
Slugger optimistic as he heals from September surgery
ST. PETERSBURG -- Watching Jonny Gomes play in 2006 hurt.
The right shoulder of the Devil Rays' slugger didn't feel right and everybody knew it. So you had to cringe whenever you watched him throw, slide headfirst, or take one of his air-condition-the-building swings.
Gomes began the season with a bang: 11 home runs in April.
But the shoulder never got better and it bothered him right up until he underwent season-ending surgery in September. For Gomes, the surgery validated the pain had been real and caused by an assortment of maladies, rather than him being unable to shake off a little discomfort.
Gomes broke onto the Major League scene in 2005, when the slugger hit 21 homers in 348 at-bats and posted a .282 batting average. He still managed to belt 20 long balls in 385 at-bats in '06, but his average dropped to .216.
Now it's the offseason and Gomes can be found in Phoenix, working diligently toward having a healthy 2007, a season in which he hopes to rekindle his spirited, reckless-abandon style of play, while putting a healthy share of baseballs into the cheap seats.
"Shoulder's coming along," Gomes said. "I've been doing a lot of range-of-motion stuff and exercises. Just the nagging little small weights and range of motion. A lot of shoulder work. I work from about 8:30 in the morning to 12:30 [in the afternoon] five days a week. It's real good, a lot of one-on-one attention."
Gomes beefed up to around 250 pounds in 2006, but Rays fans can expect to see a slimmer version of Gomes in 2007.
"I'm down, I want to be down," Gomes said. "I'm down about 14 or 15 pounds. And I want to take it down a little bit more. I want to take it down to about 226 and then build it back up to about 230, 235."
While he wants to be lighter, Gomes doesn't feel as though the added weight hurt him, even though Rays fans didn't see his signature headfirst slides as often.
"I think what hindered me more was my shoulder," Gomes said. "[Sliding headfirst] really hurt my shoulder. So it was kind of holding me back a little bit on the bases. I couldn't be as aggressive as I wanted to. I could run, but I was always afraid to slide headfirst. Now that we've got my shoulder fixed, I won't have that in the back of my mind. And I'll definitely be more aggressive."
Once he's healthy, there are questions about where Gomes will fit in with the Rays in 2007. He's an outfielder/designated hitter, but given the nature of the Rays' outfield -- Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and Delmon Young -- it's hard to imagine Gomes playing anything other than DH. Gomes acknowledges the top-shelf nature of the outfield trio, but says he's not ready to be a full-time DH.
During much of the 2006 season, Gomes could be seen wearing a first-baseman's mitt during batting practice. The Rays haven't discussed playing first base with Gomes, but he'd like to explore that as another option to give him and the team more flexibility.
"Yeah, I'd love to take [playing some first base] more seriously," Gomes said. "Definitely. I mean, if I had it my way, I'd definitely want to be in the field. I'm athletic. I can run. And I don't think it's too much of a handicap to have me out in the field. It just makes me more valuable to the team when you can move -- especially for a double switch. Or to give someone a day off where they can DH. I definitely want to be out in the field. I'm open to anywhere."
Gomes plans to start throwing and hitting in approximately six weeks, and he plans to spend the entire offseason in Phoenix, save for the weekend of Nov. 4, when he'll return home to Petaluma, Calif., for a baseball camp at Casa Grande High School to benefit the American Cancer Society. The camp is in its third year after being inspired by the memory of Gomes' high school coach, Bob Leslie, who died from cancer.
Gomes feels good about the way the camp has grown.
"We're actually trying to blow it up this year, trying to get it really out there, then next year try it at different sites," Gomes said. "Do it up like in the Sacramento area and in the Reno area. Just to get more people to it."
Gomes talks of the camp with the same energy he has shown the fans at Tropicana Field in the past and the energy he wants to bring back in 2007.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.