New-Look Brandon Gomes A Player to Watch in Rays Bullpen Competition

By Robbie Knopf

In 2011, Brandon Gomes went straight from offseason acquisition to impact performer as he managed a 2.92 ERA in 40 appearances for the Tampa Bay Rays in his rookie season. Since then, however, he has seen time in just 41 games in the major leagues and his ERA is precisely double at 5.84. Gomes has stuck around because has options remaining, but he firmly established himself as a Quad-A reliever. He lacks overpowering stuff, throwing his fastball in just the 88-92 MPH range, and there was no reason to think he could manage anything similar to his 2.47 Triple-A ERA in an extended period in the majors. Still possessing an option, Gomes entered spring training in 2014 set to go back to Triple-A once again, and it was looking increasingly likely that he would be lost in the shuffle. Suddenly the Rays have a bevy of bullpen arms with better stuff than Gomes in Cesar Ramos, Mark Lowe, Josh Lueke, Brad Boxberger, Kirby Yates, and C.J. Riefenhauser–not to mention starting pitching prospects like Alex Colome and Mike Montgomery who could be converted to relief at any time. How would Gomes possibly make himself stand out? Little did we know that Gomes had already taken steps to change his fate.

Towards the end of last season, Gomes learned a cutter from Jamey Wright as he hoped to erase his struggles versus left-handed hitters, who he has just a .936 OPS against in his career. Gomes’ issues came from the fact that his more effective secondary pitch, his slider, only worked well against same-side batters. Gomes lacked an offering he could throw inside to lefty hitters and instead allowed them to get comfortable and wait for an elevated fastball they could handle. Gomes’ cutter finally gives him that pitch. With velocity in the mid-to-high 80’s, Gomes’ cutter looks like his fastball out of his hand before featuring sharp late break that will help him force whiffs and weak contact. It will also make his fastball more effective because hitters will need to have the cutter in the back of their minds. As a pitcher with an unimpressive fastball that he does not command particularly well, Gomes is always going to rely heavily on his secondary pitches. Now he has an above-average pitch that he can use against batters of both sides, and that finally gives him a chance to find continued success.

Brandon Gomes’ cutter likely will not generate any more swings-and-misses than his slider did–he struck out 13.5 batters per 9 innings in his big league time in 2013, and he was nowhere to go from there but down. What it will do, however, is help Gomes keep the ball in the ballpark after he allowed 1.5 home runs per 9 innings the last two years and make him into a more reliable reliever. On Monday, Gomes brought his cutter out for the first time and it looked extremely good. If he can keep that up, the Rays will have to give him another look for one of the remaining spots in their bullpen.