By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published September 17, 2005
BALTIMORE - Jonny Gomes refused to say it was a big deal.
The Devil Rays outfielder clubbed his 20th home run Thursday, something only 12 major league rookies have done since 2000. And he did it in 295 at-bats, something manager Lou Piniella said is "pretty darn impressive."
But Gomes shrugged.
"I'm not saying it's not a good accomplishment, but that's what they're paying me to do, drive some runs in and hit some homers," he said before Friday's game with the Orioles. "That's what I'm supposed to do."
Gomes' numbers are worthy of rookie of the year consideration.
He entered Friday leading all rookies in homers, with a .533 slugging percentage and a .384 on-base percentage. And his average of one home run in every 14.75 at-bats was best all-time for rookies with at least 300 plate appearances.
More important to Piniella, though, is Gomes' improvement, though modest, in RBI situations.
"That's what I like to look at," Piniella said. "Forget the home run balls. They're going to come because you're strong."
Gomes is batting .276 (16-for-58) with runners in scoring position. He is at .222 (6-for-27) in such situations and fewer than two outs.
"You just have to simplify the game," Gomes said. "If you need a sac fly, hit a sac fly. Infield back, punch it up the middle. Don't try and do more than the situation asks for."
Still, the home runs gained Gomes the most attention.
"Twenty home runs in a half season is pretty darn good," Piniella said.
Said Gomes: "I'll be satisfied with what I've got after the season is over. I don't really have numbers as far as goals. If I can play every day and stay healthy, the numbers will come. But my two main goals are playing every day and staying healthy."
SMALL STEPS: Piniella said when starter Scott Kazmir learns to lower his pitch count, he will be a force.
Friday's game was a perfect example. The left-hander improved to 9-9 and 11-12 in 37 career starts. But he was pulled after six innings despite allowing just two hits because he had thrown 101 pitches, 47 for balls.
Part of the problem was five walks that gave him an AL-high 90. Kazmir said he was "sluggish" and "going in and out of my mechanics and release point." Yet he shut down the Orioles when he had to.
He struck out Alejandro Freire to end the first inning after three walks loaded the bases. And after two walks contributed to Baltimore's fifth-inning run, he got Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada on a ground out and fly out, respectively, to end the inning.
"It'll come," said Kazmir said of his consistency. "I just have to keep making quality pitches and keep throwing strikes and not try to nibble so much."
"He's gotten better as the year has gone on," Piniella said. "When he learns to get hitters out with low pitch counts, then you'll see him go to the next level."
MISCELLANY: Tampa Bay has 145 home runs. Piniella said that entering the season he expected the team to hit between 125 and 130. ... The Rays with three two-home games are Greg Vaughn and Fred McGriff in 2000 and Mike Kelly in 1998. ... Managing general partner Vince Namoli watched from the stands while celebrating his 68th birthday.... Piniella said because of the disparity in major-league payrolls, two wild card teams could be added to each league's playoffs "to give different teams an opportunity. I think baseball will get to that sometime in the near future." ... Leftfielder Carl Crawford batted .407 (35-for-86) against the Yankees. According to the Elias Sports Bureau only one player the past 25 years had as many hits against a team. Florida's Juan Pierre had 35 against the Diamondbacks in 2002.