Gomes in danger of not making Rays
Outfielder/designated hitter will not change his style of play
BRADENTON, Fla. -- An indication of just how competitive the Devil Rays' camp has been this spring is Jonny Gomes' situation.
The outfielder/designated hitter is one year removed from finishing third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting and yet he is in danger of not making the club out of Spring Training.
Yes, he did have an off-year in 2006 -- thanks in no small part to a nagging shoulder injury -- but this is Gomes, the headfirst-sliding, blue-collar crowd favorite who always has the potential to puncture the roof at Tropicana Field with his next swing.
"I knew that I had to make the team coming in," said Gomes, who acknowledged his off-year and shoulder surgery were factors. "Unless you've got that long-term deal, that job security, you're going to have to make the team."
Gomes doesn't shy away from the question when asked what it's going to take for him to make the club's Opening Day roster.
"I just have to do what I do, what I've done," Gomes said. "[I need to] just come in and show them I'm healthy and I can compete at the big-league level."
After starting the 2006 season with a club-record 11 home runs in April, Gomes seemed to be bothered more and more by a painful right shoulder to the point where he eventually underwent season-ending surgery. When asked if he's totally back, Gomes quickly replied, "Health-wise, yes."
But what about his offense?
"There's just peaks and valleys," Gomes said. "Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don't. But I feel comfortable and confident."
Gomes has been hot lately, with the bat and under the collar. When both benches emptied in Friday night's game against the Reds, it was Gomes leading the way to stick up for Shawn Riggans, who almost took a pitch in the head. Gomes doubled in his first at-bat Sunday -- including a customary headfirst slide -- then added a two-run homer over McKechnie Field's left-field wall. Making the feat more impressive was the fact the blast cut through a stiff wind blowing directly in from left field. Sunday's work gave the slugger three consecutive games with an extra-base hit -- including a three-run homer Friday night. He has four home runs this spring.
"It's a good time to be hitting well with [a] 'tryout going on,'" Gomes said. "If you're going to break my success down in 50 at-bats, I've had a lot of success and a lot of buffoonery."
Rays manager Joe Maddon said Gomes has shortened his swing and is "swinging the bat well."
Gomes said he will be disappointed if he doesn't make the team.
"I worked hard in the offseason, never missed a workout, and I feel like I can help this team win," said Gomes.
While Gomes puts his heart out there every time he takes the field -- and will do all it takes to make the team -- he won't alter his style of play.
"I don't think so," Gomes said. "I think I always play with fire. I'm just trying to take it to the next level. That's how I always do it. I'm not a guy who is going to be out there wearing slippers."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.