Fun and Gomes for Jays

Yan Gomes darts for the bag at first after snaring a grounder during the recent series in Tampa....

Yan Gomes darts for the bag at first after snaring a grounder during the recent series in Tampa. (Reuters)

Ken Fidlin, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:17 PM ET

On Tuesday night in St. Petersburg, Yan Gomes was playing first base for the Blue Jays when, in the sixth inning, he scrambled to his right for a sharply hit grounder by Matt Joyce of the Rays, but the ball was out of his reach.

For a half-second, Gomes seemed resigned to the fact Joyce had himself a single.

Then, suddenly, Gomes realized third baseman Brett Lawrie was shifted around in short right field and was ready to throw Joyce out. Gomes scrambled back to the bag to make the third out of the inning.

“I don’t know if they did that much in Vegas or New Hampshire,” said manager John Farrell, with a wry smile the next afternoon when reminded of the play. “There are some things here with our defensive alignments what they are, that he’ll have to get used to.”

The Gomes story this season is one of those unscripted delights that sometimes brighten up a long baseball season. The 24-year-old Brazilian has gone from being a nobody to a somebody in the Blue Jays organization in the past 12 months and, in the past week, has made quite an impact at the major-league level.

Called up to fill Adam Lind’s roster spot when the first baseman was sent down to triple-A, Gomes, a catcher by trade, has played four games at third base and two at first base. He has already belted a pair of home runs and does not appear at all overmatched by big-league pitching.

Farrell heard and read about Gomes long before he saw him.

“I kept getting reports last year and I’d go: ‘Who’s Gomes? Who’s Gomes?’ ” said Farrell.

“I didn’t know him. You’d see a home run, home run, home run, then you look at the overall numbers and there is obviously something here. Then when he came to spring training, his hands ... when you see him receive and you see him catch, he’s athletic, he’s got good hands. And with (Travis) d’Arnaud, J.P. (Arencibia) ahead of him, his path to the big-leagues might require some versatility, so we started to look at him elsewhere on the diamond.”

“Then there was some question in spring training where he was going to start the year and at what position. Well, we decided: Why not put him out at third base every day in Las Vegas? He’ll catch once or twice a week, and, like a lot of guys, the bat is going to find a way.

When he was called up, Gomes was hitting .359 with five homers and 12 doubles.

“What stands out more than anything is just his attitude, his work ethic,” said Farrell. “Nothing has ever been given to him. He’s earned everything he’s received in his career and it’s great to see.”

Gomes grew up in Brazil, immersed as you might imagine, in soccer. However, a chance meeting between his father and a rare baseball coach sent Yan in that direction. Eventually, after Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow as a 17-year-old, he went to the University of Tennessee where he and Arencibia became both teammates and friends. Even at that point, Gomes had no illusions about a career as a major-league player. He just wanted to fit in somewhere in the baseball world. Now he’s the first-ever big-leaguer from Brazil.

“To me, if I go up to the bigs as a utility guy, I go up as a utility guy,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter to me, as long as I get out there and play, and playing different positions helps, it gets your value up, it works.

“The biggest thing that changed is I can definitely play different positions, and they trust me in different positions now. That’s the mentality I got out there.”

Nothing that he has done so far shouts ‘utility player.’ His bat will dictate whether he’s a regular or not and the swing is sound. The big question, as it is for every hitter, is how he’ll react when opponents compile a ‘book’ on him and start pounding on his weaknesses.

“Technically if you break down his swing, you see a high hand set, you see a lot of movement, but at the sane time it’s a very much under-control movement and his timing has been outstanding,” said Farrell.

“He’s taken to the corner positions. He’s got great aptitude. He’s not afraid. He’s been mostly a catcher in his pro career, but what he’s shown on the corners, the versatility and the ability to play both is outstanding.”

With an OPS of 1.011 — five hits and a couple of walks in 19 plate appearances — he’ll probably get a couple of more starts in Arlington this weekend against the Texas Rangers.

Even a week into this stage of his career, Gomes has trouble grasping where he is.

“It’s just so hard to believe,” he says.

 


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