Gomez no longer defensive about glove work

INSIDE PITCH

July 08, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Forget the .302 batting average, skip past the 13 home runs and fast-forward beyond the 46 RBIs -- at least for a moment.

For a complete statistical analysis of Leo Gomez during the first half of the season, start from the right side of the ledger instead of the left. It's the number in the last column that is as impressive, and perhaps even more surprising, as any of the others.

The almost forgotten third baseman, who would've been discarded had there been any takers, is having as good a year defensively as he is offensively. Which means he's performed much better than expected in the field.

The number in question is four -- the amount of errors Gomez has made thus far. It's a statistic that doesn't always tell the full story, but in this case, it is indicative.

His potential as a hitter was never questioned, despite last year's injury- induced .197 batting average. But defense was never considered a strong point for Gomez.

"I know when I first came to the big leagues, they said, 'Leo can't play defense,' " he said. His range is limited, and, in the past, he's tended to be erratic.

That has not been the case this year -- and the credit has to go to Gomez, who has removed any doubts about his work habits. His preparation for a season that promised little in the way of opportunity was exceptional.

"When I came to spring training, I knew I didn't have a job," he said. "I knew I had to work even harder so I could prove I can play in the big leagues."

It took an injury to Chris Sabo to get him into the lineup, but when his chance came, he was ready. Defense was one of the reasons the Orioles were interested in Sabo in the first place. Though there appears to be minimal difference in their physical skills, Sabo's track record indicated he was the more dependable of the two defensively.

If there was any apprehension about a drop-off in defense when Gomez went into the lineup, it has disappeared. "How many errors does he have?" asked Johnny Oates in response to a query about Gomez and his defense.

"It seems like he's caught every ball hit to him, and made every throw. He's made all of the plays. You don't expect his range to improve, but he's done everything you could expect. He's played extremely well."

Everyone, including Gomez, knows that it's his bat, not his glove, that got him into the lineup. But he also understands that defense can play a big role in keeping him there.

He credits former coach Cal Ripken Sr. for helping him two years ago and takes a lot of pride in his improvement. "I'm happier with my defense than my offense," said Gomez. "I know I can go 0-for-4 and still help win a game by making some plays. I've learned to keep my mind on defense when I'm in the field, and on hitting when I'm at bat."

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