Early Season Heroes

By Nathan Petrashek

It’s pretty incredible that two players who don’t see regular playing time are tied for the team lead in average, and yet that’s just where George Kottaras and Carlos Gomez find themselves with just one game to go in April.  Both have made game-changing contributions to the team in the early season that need to be recognized, and have made the case that they deserve more playing time.

Kottaras has plenty of late-inning heroics already.  On April 11, he delivered the team’s only runs on a two-run shot off Ryan Dempster in the seventh inning to deliver what remains Yovani Gallardo’s only win of the season.  Then on the 17th against the Dodgers, Kottaras plated the go-ahead run on a two-run double at the bottom of the ninth.  In 22 ABs, Kottaras is raking .318/.500/.773, with all but one at bat coming against righties.  It has been refreshing to see Kottaras used more in late-inning, high-leverage situations, but to really maximize his skills, the whole notion of using him as Randy Wolf’s personal catcher should be scrapped.  Kottaras, hitting just .182 for his career against lefties, should always cede the start to Jonathan Lucroy in that situation, freeing him up for additional starts against righties and pinch hit appearances.

Gomez has shown flashes early this season of developing into the player we have hoped he’d become for the last two years.  With appearances in 18 games, Gomez is slashing .318/.333/.545.  Gomez has walked just once, and his OBP leaves something to be desired but is nonetheless a dramatic improvement over last year’s .276.  Most people are familiar with Gomez’s speed, and he hasn’t disappointed this year, swiping five bags.  What has been really surprising, though, is Gomez’s plate discipline.  After ending about 28% of his at-bats last year via the K, Gomez has struck out just three times so far in 2012, about 7% of his at-bats.  In general, he’s swinging at more pitches in the zone and fewer outside, and has been able to make contact at rates well above his career averages.  Only time will tell if the 26-year-old Gomez is one of those rare late bloomers, but he certainly looks like he’s finally put it all together in the early going.  And with CF platoon mate Nyjer Morgan batting just .176 a month in, Gomez’s production is certainly welcome.

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