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Brewers leadoff man Carlos Gomez defies conventional baseball wisdom with aggressive hitting approach

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

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Carlos Gomez isn't afraid to take big cuts at the plate, no matter the pitch count. (AP)

Carlos Gomez isn't afraid to take big cuts at the plate, no matter the pitch count. (AP)

WASHINGTON – Three pitches into Sunday afternoon's ballgame, Carlos Gomez, professional leadoff hitter for the Milwaukee Brewers, had a three-ball count. You know what Carlos Gomez did next. You know what 29 other leadoff hitters wouldn't do next. And you still know exactly what Carlos Gomez did next.

He swung.

He got a fastball, because of course he'd get a fastball from Gio Gonzalez on a 3-0 count, and he swung, because Carlos Gomez hunts fastballs, is a professional fastball hunter and hitter, and there's a finite number of sure-thing fastballs in one man's lifetime. It's best not to let them pass, particularly if you are Carlos Gomez.

That's why we watch him.

Live a little, man. Get after it. There's no book. Is it a sound baseball play? Maybe not. A good Carlos Gomez play? It works for him.

Gomez put the bat barrel on that fastball, and the ball came off the barrel with top-spinned authority and hissed directly on two hops to the shortstop, who threw out Gomez. In a single fast-twitch event, the Milwaukee Brewers had skittered from an entirely advantageous position to one out and none on, and the purists sighed (as, presumably, did Gonzalez), and still the moment was glorious for its depiction of who Gomez is and why.

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Carlos Gomez (Getty Images)

Carlos Gomez (Getty Images)

He attacks. In a game of weight shifts, thin angles and subtle edges, Gomez waves his bat menacingly, bugs his eyes, taps his front foot and swings as hard as he can, as soon as he can, and as often as he can. While that might seem incongruous for a leadoff hitter, and while you might ask why the Brewers would have him bat there anyway, Gomez is second in on-base percentage (and first in OPS) among the game's regular leadoff men. Besides, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke likes the notion of a hard threat at the top of his lineup, though, admittedly, the leadoff options on his roster are limited anyway.

So, Gomez takes his game to the top of the lineup, considers all that is assumed the job entails, and hits the way he wants to hit anyway, the way that has made him an All-Star and one of the most feared hitters in the game. He would not adjust to the job. It would adjust to him.

"For myself, I have to be aggressive," he said. "I'll have a better at-bat."

Likely shorter, too. He's a .395 hitter with a 1.055 OPS on the first pitch. The sample size is nearly a quarter of his at-bats. He knows these numbers. Quoted them Sunday. And they feed his batter's box inclinations. He said he'd happily see four or five pitches in a game if each of those pitches were hittable, a notion that would make some general managers' heads explode, but seems to work for Gomez.

"It's the way that I swing," he said. "If I go up there and try to take pitches, no. It sends a message to the pitcher – you make sure you throw the ball outside the strike zone. He has to be careful, man."

Gomez's plan gets even leaner than that.

"I'm looking for something to hit out of the park," he said. "I'm not looking for a base hit. Sometimes I swing, sometimes not. And when I swing, most of the time, I hit it. I don't even think when I'm at the plate. I go there, 'Throw me the pitch.' "

Perhaps you could tell by the swing. Armadas have sailed on its ferocity. Even Sunday, when he was hitless with a walk in five plate appearances, the show is worth it. He left the bases loaded in the second inning when he struck out on a changeup, the sixth pitch of the at-bat. He grounded out in the fourth against Craig Stammen, after seven pitches. In the seventh inning, Drew Storen struck him out on five pitches, the first a bunt attempt, the last a slider away.

Few get after at-bats the way Gomez does. Fewer still do it from the leadoff spot.

"He's different," Storen said. "He comes up and you know you have to make a quality first pitch. But it's fun. You know he's trying to hit it out of the stadium on you.

"He got me on a slider last year, 0-2 pitch, I hung it. That's what you know."

Gomez batted one final time Sunday. It was in the ninth inning, man on first, the Brewers down a run. Rafael Soriano on the mound. Gomez aiming for the Capitol.

Soriano started with a slider. Ball one. Another slider for ball two. Both were down and away, Soriano steering clear of Gomez's bat barrel. Rickie Weeks, not near the threat Gomez is, was on deck. The two-ball pitch was a fastball, too far inside.

Gomez was in his second 3-and-0 count of the afternoon. He stepped from the batter's box and looked over his shoulder at the third-base coach. Maybe they would ask him to take a pitch?

"No," Gomez said later. "I'm not taking. I was just looking for my green light."

Like it was the polite thing to do.

Soriano came next with another fastball. Gomez waved his bat menacingly, bugged his eyes, tapped his front foot and … took ball four. Soriano had thrown it high and away.

"I was looking for middle away," Gomez said. "He throws it a little lower, I hit a home run."

He grinned.

"Or, I swing and miss," he said. "One of those. But I'm going to swing as hard as I can."

That's why we watch him.

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