GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Everyone thinks Indians catcher Yan Gomes wants to forget his injury-filled season on the brink last year.
Everyone is wrong.
“I think last year was a huge learning experience,” said Gomes, who spent two stints on the disabled list in 2016, batting an embarrassingly low .167 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs in 74 games. It came just two seasons removed from Gomes winning a Silver Slugger award at his position when he hit .278 with 21 homers and 74 RBIs.
“It was the most exciting season we’ve ever been a part of — I’ve definitely been a part of,” he said. “So I’m not like forgetting about last season, ’cause it was a big moment for our organization and a big learning experience for me.”
What did he learn?
“Just how to handle my ups and downs,” Gomes said. “I think I didn’t do that very well. The staying healthy part was tough. I couldn’t get myself ready every day because I was so stressed and so kind of hurt all the time. And that didn’t help anything out with being healthy or just being in a good mindset.”
When Gomes wasn’t sulking on the injured list, he was on the field, making outs on a regular basis. His body language told the agonizing tale.
“He got off to a slow start, and it just snowballed,” manager Terry Francona said. “It got to the point where he’d make an out in his first at-bat and you could see it was like he was feeling it from the day before. The shoulders were kind of sagging. That’s a hard way to be successful.
“The one thing that we talked to Gomer about was the first time he goes through a tough stretch, because he will, everybody does, he’s got to be strong enough in his confidence and in his thinking that he can handle that.”
It’s tough to blame Gomes for being down. A year removed from a knee injury that sapped most of his season, he began 2016 in a tailspin, batting a paltry .184 over the first three months. It got so bad that his teammates held a mock sacrifice to Jobu from the movie “Major League” to help him emerge from the slump.
As Gomes’ bad luck would have it, he sustained a shoulder injury the following day — July 17 at Minnesota — that sidelined him for more than two months.
Gomes’ misery didn’t end there. On the verge of leaving the DL, he was hit by a pitch in his final rehab game and broke a bone in his right hand — an injury that all but ended his season.
“I went two months without playing, trying to get my body ready, that to me was the clean slate,” Gomes said. “I put that first half behind and then I’m one at-bat away from just getting back to the field and then get hurt again.”
Gomes made it back before the year was complete and was even able to pitch in a little. He hit a game-winning homer in Kansas City on the final day of the regular season that helped the Indians clinch home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the postseason.
“If I would have done anything else, I would have been happy because, honestly, taking that swing hurt like a son of a gun,” said Gomes, who was on Cleveland’s postseason roster, appearing in four World Series games. “My hand was still broken. I was just trying to figure out a way to be a part of the team. When you’re on the DL, as awesome as your teammates treat you and the staff and everybody is thinking about you, you’re not on the field like I’ve been used to.
“Even though these last two years I’ve been hurt, I’ve never been hurt before (that). So it was just a matter of getting on the field and helping in a way. I didn’t think the home run was gonna be what I was gonna come back doing, but it was definitely a cool moment.”
Despite a strong postseason performance from Roberto Perez, Gomes entered spring training as the starter. But Perez figures to serve as more than the traditional backup, especially if Gomes gets off to another slow start.
“We have two good catchers. We’re fortunate,” Francona said. “Gomer’s been our catcher, just for different reasons, whether it’s been injuries ... Roberto stepped in and really did a great job. So it’s my responsibility to make it work for both of them, and we will. There’s no plan because I just don’t think you know what’s going to happen.”
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