Gomes hungers for everyday role

Gomes hungers for everyday role

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- No one could ever get away with saying Jonny Gomes came unprepared for Spring Training. It'd be as wrong of a statement as cactus needles don't hurt and Arizona is humid.

And that's after an offseason where Gomes didn't know which camp he'd even be attending. The Reds outfielder is pleased to be having a stellar spring so far.

"I just wanted to come in healthy and ready to go with a lot of flexibility for Dusty [Baker]," Gomes said. "I didn't want there to be anything he'd ask me to do that I wasn't ready or in shape to do -- arm-wise, defense-wise, hitting-wise, hitting righties, hitting lefties, playing left field, playing right field. I wanted to have my full bag of clubs."

Through 13 spring games, Gomes is batting .294 (10-for-34) with a team-leading four home runs and 10 RBIs. In a 1-for-3 afternoon Sunday vs. the A's, he hit a solo homer in the top of the fourth inning.

In 281 at-bats for the Reds last season, Gomes hit 20 home runs while batting .267 with 51 RBIs and a .338 on-base percentage in 98 games. He was used largely in a platoon situation and batted .307 vs. left-handed pitchers compared to .244 against right-handers.

Gomes wants to show again that he's capable of playing every day.

"Righties don't bother me at all," Gomes said. "I didn't even know that was an issue. I think it's just opportunity. Fifteen more at-bats could be five hits and it evens out. That's why I take care of my body, to be a complete ballplayer. I really set one goal every year, and it's to have the ability to play 162 games. If I'm not in the lineup, that's up to the manager and that's fine. I want to come to work every day with the ability to play every day, whether it's [facing] a righty or a lefty or a day game or a doubleheader."

Reds manager Dusty Baker hasn't committed to giving Gomes more chances vs. right-handers. In Sunday's split-squad game, the Reds faced a right-handed starter in Carlos Silva while Gomes was on the squad that faced the A's and lefty starter Dallas Braden.

"We'll see," Baker said. "I have to find a way to keep guys sharp and play them. You have to produce, too. Not taking anything away from Jonny, but breaking balls aren't breaking quite the same here. Sometimes it's a little harder to judge overall. Everybody knows Jonny can hit that fastball."

Gomes was re-signed by the Reds to a one-year, $800,000 contract on Feb. 22 -- one day before full-squad workouts began. Last spring, the 29-year-old played under a Minor League contract and led the team in homers and was second in RBIs and total bases but was sent to the Minors after he faded the final two weeks of camp.

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The current contract is guaranteed, but it hasn't altered Gomes' outlook as he competes for the vacancy in left field. He and Chris Dickerson came into spring as the leading candidates. Gomes brings the most proven right-handed power among the contenders.

"I only have one speed between the lines and that's guaranteed or non-guaranteed," Gomes said. "I keep playing the game the same way. Nothing is guaranteed until I'm on that line for Opening Day -- my favorite day, favorite holiday, favorite anything of the year."

It's that type of personality that has made Gomes a hit with Reds fans and inside his own clubhouse.

"You know he's going to give you what he has," Baker said. "In a battle, he has your back. He's the kind of guy you want to be in a foxhole with."

Despite his solid 2009 season, Gomes wasn't really overwhelmed with offers. He got some nibbles from other clubs, including the Cubs, but nothing materialized until the Reds upped their offer to a Major League deal last month. Although he has a club option for 2011, a second-straight quality season could bring more security by this time next year.

"He lost some weight this year," Baker said. "It seems like he's running better. He's worked hard on his defense to get better. Jonny knows this is an opportunity for him to put himself back on the map. He had one pretty good year. That didn't really sell to the baseball people. You have two good years in a row, now they'll say 'OK, he's back.' This is an important year for Jonny to re-establish himself as a quality player."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.