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Gomes aiming for big bounce-back season

Indians catcher is looking to stay healthy, hot at plate in 2016
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Yan Gomes did not want to stop. When the Indians' season concluded last year, the catcher finally was feeling like himself again at the plate. He was not ready to accept the winter's early arrival.

So, Gomes kept hitting. For two weeks, he kept getting in the cage.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Yan Gomes did not want to stop. When the Indians' season concluded last year, the catcher finally was feeling like himself again at the plate. He was not ready to accept the winter's early arrival.

So, Gomes kept hitting. For two weeks, he kept getting in the cage.

"I just wanted to keep swinging," Gomes said. "I wanted to keep that feeling going. I kept going, because you're starting to finally feel hot and then the season's over."

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Following a trying season, one in which a knee injury cost him games early and statistics late, Gomes finally took a break. He stopped in time to watch the Royals beat the Blue Jays -- the catcher's former team -- en route to a World Series victory over the Mets.

Gomes admitted to feeling a tinge of jealousy over Toronto's success. It also did not help to watch Kansas City in October, considering how many times Cleveland matches up with them in the summer. When Gomes watched the World Series, though, he saw hope for his own team. He saw a Mets rotation similar to the Tribe's staff, and he saw a Kansas City team that was not too different from Cleveland.

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"It just shows how close we are from being right there," Gomes said. "We played very well against the Royals. I know we can definitely have the staff to pitch against anybody, and that's how the Mets got in there. It starts right now, man."

Gomes fully understands how important he is to the Indians' chances of contending, too.

After spraining his right knee on April 12 last season, Gomes missed 37 games and did not look like himself at the plate when he returned. In 2014, the catcher belted 21 homers with 74 RBIs and picked up a Silver Slugger Award. One year later, Gomes hit .231 with a .267 on-base percentage and a .659 OPS in 95 games.

Behind the plate, Gomes was still a capable catcher. He threw out runners at a 31.6 percent clip and guided the pitching staff to a 3.56 ERA when he was catching. The Indians were 49-41 with him behind the plate and 32-39 when he was not.

Offensively, though, Gomes' previously consistent right-handed power went missing.

"It was rough, because I wanted to hit the ground running and that's just not how it happened," Gomes said. "I think I was putting too much pressure on myself to try to play catch up a lot. You're trying to make an impact in any way you can and you look up at the board and you're like, 'Man.'

"I didn't really have a good grasp on how to handle coming back. I just had to take it easy, slow down and make an impact in some way or another. I put a lot of pressure on hitting, and at first I wasn't making as much of an impact as I wanted, so I had a tough time handling it."

Manager Terry Francona said Gomes' comeback was admirable.

"That's what good players do," Francona said. "You never know when a guy comes back quite how they're going to do. There's no way to have a crystal ball. ... You could tell the whole year, it just wasn't quite the same, or it was harder for him at times. But again, I kind of fall back on, that's what good players do. They try to come back and play and we appreciate it.

"We knew his numbers were going to suffer a little bit because of it."

Gomes was encouraged by his strong finish to last season.

He set a career high with a four-RBI showing against the Angels on Aug. 26, launching a grand slam. Gomes then enjoyed a two-homer outburst against his old Blue Jays team on Sept. 1. After posting a .560 OPS in 39 games in the first half, the catcher turned in a .725 OPS after the All-Star break. That included a .297 average over his final 16 games and a season-ending 10-game hitting streak.

"I felt like I was having better at-bats," Gomes said. "I felt like I was putting better swings on the ball and having more controlled approaches."

So, when the season ended, Gomes kept swinging.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.

Cleveland Indians, Yan Gomes