Gomes returning to form after early slump

May 25th, 2017

CLEVELAND -- struggled to resist the temptation to tinker when he encountered offensive rough patches last season. He toyed with his swing and altered his approach, and then those patches turned into swaths and the catcher's campaign went from bad to worse.

"Man, if I could count how many times I made an adjustment last year," Gomes said with a laugh on Thursday afternoon. "I'd drive myself crazy. That's probably why I've got white hair in my beard now."

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Gomes can joke about it now because it looks like the nightmare is over.

In Gomes' first nine games of the year, the catcher still appeared to be spinning in the downward spiral that sucked up his 2016 season and spit out abysmal statistics. This time around, Gomes did not mess with his swing or adopt some new line of thinking in the batter's box. He trusted that it was just a slump, and Gomes has since been rewarded for that internal belief.

Over the past month, Gomes has returned to a level that puts him back in the conversation as one of the best all-around catchers in the Majors. His defense has not slipped -- the catcher leads the big leagues with a 55-percent caught-stealing rate -- and the offense has returned. In his last 24 games, Gomes has hit at a .333 clip (23-for-69) with a .997 OPS. That stretch followed a 2-for-30 (.067) start to the season.

"If you ask him, I think he was starting to feel it a little bit," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I think he almost gave himself a talking to, and you can kind of see his demeanor be like, 'OK, if I'm not going to get a hit, nobody is going to steal a base.' And then, the hard work offensively, he's back to being that guy that we kind of knew."

On the season, Gomes has a .253/.339/.455 slash line to go along with eight doubles, four homers, 12 RBIs and 13 runs. He is one of eight catchers in the Majors with at least a 1.0 WAR (per FanGraphs) and has turned in a 117 weighted Runs Created Plus, meaning he has hit 17 percent above league average. In the process, Gomes has also shown more plate discipline than in the past, posting an 8.8-percent walk rate (4.7 percent for his career).

Defensively, Gomes has thrown out an American League-leading 12 of 22 would-be basestealers. Cleveland's catchers as a whole (including ) entered Thursday pacing the Majors with a 54-percent caught-stealing rate with the fewest steals (13) allowed in the big leagues.

"That's a blessing for us," Francona said. "They're really good, and it seems like they make their best throws when the situation is needed."

That overall showing is more what Cleveland envisioned when it signed Gomes to a six-year extension that includes team options for 2020 and '21. Three years ago, when the catcher penned his name on that multi-year deal, he won the '14 AL Silver Slugger Award for his position.

Last year, between slumps and injuries, Gomes hit just .167 with a .527 OPS in 74 games.

The catcher is happy to have moved on from that draining experience.

"The confidence never went away," Gomes said. "I think it's just a matter of staying healthy and just keep working so that you're not trying to overdo anything. I think once the ball starts rolling, you just want to keep riding it."