Gomez helps spark aggresive Brewers’ hot start

MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Brewers’ new leadoff hitter can aggravate pitchers by slugging homers or stealing bases. Carlos Gomez is flustering foes, and his energetic approach has helped Milwaukee jump out to the best record in baseball.

Kind of reminds Padres manager Bud Black of another lethal leadoff hitter.

“I think when you have that type of talent … it’s reminiscent of one of the best leadoff hitters of all time. I’m not comparing him to Rickey Henderson because Rickey did it over a long period of time,” Black said this week while San Diego visited Milwaukee for a three-game series.

“But the skill set of power, speed, average is deadly.”

The Brewers had a surprising 4 1/2-game lead in the NL Central over St. Louis with a 16-6 record on their off day Thursday. Gomez has been a big reason behind the hot start, hitting .289 with five homers and 12 RBIs and three steals going into Friday’s game against the Cubs.

Gomez, a Gold Glove-winner in center, goes all out every play. At times, he swings the bat so violently he can strike a cartoonish figure when he misses, as if corkscrewing himself into the ground.

While Gomez has been trying to extend counts more and draw walks, he hasn’t changed his overall approach.

“Enthusiasm. Energy, no matter (where) I’m hitting. I always come strong, aggressive,” Gomez said this month.

Entering Thursday, the Brewers had 104 at-bats with the ball in play on the first pitch, which led the majors by one over the Reds and Rockies. Milwaukee was hitting .375 and slugging .644 in those situations with five homers and 23 RBIs, according to STATS.

Gomez, along with teammates Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez were in the Top 25 among players with hits on first pitches.

All three players have been in Milwaukee a few years, so this is not a new development with the Brewers. What makes it stand out more — besides the victories — is that last year’s leadoff hitter, Norichika Aoki, was more patient at the plate and extended counts.

Aoki was traded to Kansas City in the offseason, replaced by Gomez atop the order.

Swinging early isn’t something the Brewers are trying to teach, manager Ron Roenicke has said. He’s playing to the strength of his roster, and hoping players — especially younger ones still learning the game — will grow to understand what pitches they can handle.

One of those younger players is left fielder Khris Davis, who hit 11 homers in 56 games last year, his rookie season. He feeds off Gomez’s first-pitch mentality, while also trying to learn the line of when to be aggressive.

“That’s something I battle every time,” Davis said. “If you’re swinging at what (the pitcher) wants you to swing at, then that’s crossing the line. If I’m swinging at what I want to swing at, then that’s a plan.”

Gomez has slowed a little over the three games since being ejected for his role in a bench-clearing fracas Sunday in Pittsburgh, going 2 for 13 with four strikeouts in the Padres series.

He’s appealing his three-game suspension. Gomez had paused at the plate and flipped his bat to watch a two-out drive. Gomez said he thought would be caught; the ball hit the wall and Gomez hustled and slid headfirst into third for a triple.

Backing up the play, Pirates starter Gerrit Cole stormed toward Gomez. Cole said he told Gomez that “if you’re going to hit just a fly ball to center field, then don’t stand and look at it.”

Cole was not disciplined. Gomez said this week he was appealing because he didn’t think the suspension was fair, and that he didn’t start the fight.

The fracas re-started a periodic discussion about the game’s “unwritten rules” of sportsmanship.

“You hit a home run, you look at the pitcher, that’s to show him up. But 99 percent of the time when I hit a home run, I don’t know where the ball is at,” Gomez said. “That means I’m not looking at the ball – I’m putting my head down and running the bases fast like anybody else.”

Added Gomez: “I don’t feel like it’s disrespect.”

Roenicke has said Gomez could be calmer in such situations, but otherwise the skipper didn’t think the discipline was fair either. Like he has since spring training, Roenicke has encouraged Gomez to keep his same approach that has turned him into a star in Milwaukee, leadoff hitter or not.