MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -Growing pains were going to be part of the package this year with Carlos Gomez.
Two-strike drag bunts that dribble into foul territory for outs. Overeager swings at pitches out of the strike zone. Throws that sail over the cutoff man's head.
Three weeks into his first season as Minnesota's leadoff man and everyday center fielder, though, Gomez has given the Twins enough energy and enthusiasm to live with his mistakes. The good has outweighed the bad, and with just 207 major league at-bats the Twins believe he'll get much better.
``He's ahead on the exciting part,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Sunday was a perfect example. Gomez went 0-for-5 to drop his average to .244, but he saved the game in the ninth inning against Cleveland, stretching full out to make a diving grab of a slicing blooper in shallow right-center.
Teammates, unprompted, claimed the catch reminded them of Torii Hunter.
``You look out there and you're like, 'Man, that ball's going to fall,''' first baseman Justin Morneau said. ``All of a sudden, he just came out of nowhere and he hung onto it. It was huge.''
This is exactly what Minnesota needed from the only one of four prospects acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade who made the roster for opening day, especially considering the hole left in center and the heart of the order by the departure of Hunter and his seven Gold Glove awards.
The 22-year-old Gomez, who appeared in 58 games last year for New York, doesn't have Hunter's power, but he has brought an elite level of a unique skill to the top of the Twins lineup.
Speed, and plenty of it.
``He gets your attention,'' Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
With nine stolen bases in 10 attempts to lead the American League, the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Gomez has the kind of running ability to distract a pitcher into throwing over to first five straight times to keep his lead from getting too big. He is also fast enough to be a legitimate threat to score soon after leaving the batter's box.
Just ask him.
``When I'm on base, it's like I got one run already,'' Gomez said. ``I can steal second, and then the other team's got problems. I'm on second and it's a groundball, I'll be at home.''
Raised in the Dominican Republic, Gomez might sound cockier than he really due to the difficulty of internal Spanish-to-English translation.
He is quite confident, though, and will quickly - there's that fast part again - reject any hint of his game as being one- or two-dimensional despite his pride in his speed.
Because along with his feet and glove, he's got a bat.
``In September, when the season's over, you see the numbers and we've got a good year,'' he said.
As a contrast to his bravado, Gomez has spoken a constant appreciation for his coaches, teammates and place on the lineup card.
``I'm so happy for this opportunity,'' he said.
He has also frequently expressed a willingness to learn, which is the most important piece for the Twins. There is, of course, plenty for them to teach.
Gardenhire is trying to get him to stop faking a bunt on the first pitch he sees, then pulling the bat back and swinging away.
First-base coach Jerry White, who works with the outfielders, is encouraging Gomez to aim his throws toward third, an overcorrection that could put the ball back on line toward the plate.
``In time he's going to be a real good player,'' White said.
Hitting coach Joe Vavra has been telling him to swing hard, but not so much that he falls down like he did a couple of times during spring training. In 82 at-bats, Gomez has already struck out 20 times.
``I'd be the last person on earth that wants to take away his aggressiveness, but we want to make sure he stays under control of the strike zone,'' Vavra said. ``We're filling up a glass of water, but we're kind of doing it a drip at a time.''
Young players that don't listen have a hard time staying in the manager's favor, but that hasn't been the case here.
``He's still going to swing at a curveball and try to hit it through the flag and stuff like that,'' Gardenhire said, motioning to the roof high above left field, ``but he's getting it. We're having fun with him. He's a fun guy to watch.''
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