Gomes' struggles leave Baker with difficult decision

Published May. 22, 2011 5:52 p.m. ET

The question of the day — or week, or season — is what to do or what not to do with slump-shrouded Cincinnati Reds left fielder Jonny Gomes.

If some fans had their way, he would be stripped naked, tarred, feathered and shipped C.O.D. back to his Scottsdale, Ariz. home.

Manager Dusty Baker, a man of supreme patience who gives his players about two miles of rope, keeps playing Gomes, despite the fact he is hitting .126 since last June, nearly a year of futility.  And despite his .180 average, when the Reds began interleague play Friday in Cleveland, Baker had Gomes not only in the lineup as the designated hitter, he had him batting second.

In Friday’s game, the hitless Gomes came to bat in the ninth inning with the Reds down a run and the tying run on first base with one out.

Gomes hit a soft liner to the pitcher, who caught the ball and threw to first to double off the runner and end the game.

On Saturday, Gomes came to bat twice with runners on base and took called third strikes, once after swinging miserably at two pitches so far outside the strike zone he couldn’t reach them with the foul pole. Then he took strike three right down Main Street.

On Sunday, much to the seal of approval of most fans, Baker benched Gomes.

Now the team goes to Philadelphia for four important games against the Phillies and fans wonder if Gomes will be in his normal left field spot now that there won’t be a designated hitter.

It is difficult to dislike Gomes and impossible to root against him. This is a guy who has overcome everything the world has thrown at him.  

At one point in his life, he and his mother lived out of a battered old car.

At another point he was in an automobile accident in which his best friend was killed and Gomes escaped injury.

At another point in his young life, Gomes suffered a heart attack.

He is, easily, one of the team’s hardest workers. He is one of the most popular guys in the clubhouse, loved by his teammates, and no matter his problems, he roots hard for his teammates.

During spring training he said, “I’m thankful for this opportunity to play regularly and if I don’t do the job I’ll be the guy rooting hardest for whomever takes my place.”

And he means it with every fibre.

And that time might have arrived. His place could be taken by veteran Fred Lewis or young player Chris Heisey or they may share the spot.

During his refusal to remove Gomes during the first two months, Baker said, “I keep him in there because I know what he is capable of doing. He was a big part of what we accomplished last year (divisional championship) and he is capable of carrying a team.

“How can a guy turn things around sitting on the bench?” Baker asked. “I have to show guys that I’m confident in what they can do.”

Gomes’ average this season never has been respectable, but he refused to swing at bad pitches and at one point led the league in walks with 19. And he was respectable in RBI and home runs, too.

But suddenly he retreated into his old habit of chasing balls out of the strike zone and the strikeouts mounted and the walks disapated and the frustrated look on his face deepened into large crevices.

He is hitting .171 while on a 0 for 13 slide with seven homers, 19 RBI, 22 walks and 42 strikeouts.

It is decision time for Baker — stick with him for a while longer or give somebody else a chance.