Opportunity knocks for Jonny Gomes

Jonny-on-the-spot? With Boston's outfield looking thin, could Gomes end up playing every day? AP Photo/Eric Risberg

BOSTON -- The way Jonny Gomes describes it, becoming a platoon player happens almost by accident. Another player wants a day off against a tough left-hander like CC Sabathia or Jon Lester or Mark Buehrle, the manager looks down his bench, and settles on you as that day's replacement.

"Those are your starts," Gomes said the other day. "Those are guys [players] don't want to face. Those are the guys where you take a day off. That's how I got my shot.

"Someone says, 'I've played the last five days, CC is coming to town,' the manager says, 'I'll sit you down; go get 'em, Gomes.' A couple of hits, a couple more, and all of a sudden, I can hit lefties.

"I wasn't a platoon player as a 12-year-old all-star. I wasn't a platoon player in the minor leagues. There's no such thing as a platoon player. But that's the job that was offered to me, and I shined at it. That being said, I kind of want a little more on my plate."

Gomes may get his wish with the Red Sox. Ryan Kalish, who was expected to compete with Daniel Nava for playing time in left field against right-handed pitchers while Gomes faces lefties, is undergoing shoulder surgery next week and will be lost indefinitely. The Red Sox moved quickly to fill the void by signing Ryan Sweeney, who was nontendered after an injury-filled 2012, to a minor league deal, but Gomes would seem to have a shot this spring at claiming an every-day job.

The Sox certainly are paying him better than a part-timer, his two-year, $10 million contract a far better deal than the one Cody Ross received from the Sox last winter (one-year, $3 million) and Ross became a lineup regular.

When the Sox announced Gomes' signing in December, GM Ben Cherington suggested he might receive more playing time than was widely assumed for a guy whose career splits are far superior against lefties (.284/.382/.512/.894) than righties (.223/.307/.425/.732).

"We expect him to play a lot," Cherington said at the time. "Exactly how many at-bats it ends up being, that's up to [manager John Farrell] and I guess up to Jonny to some degree, how he performs. He's had opportunities where he has handled right-handers pretty well.

"We think the ballpark is a good fit for him. He's a grinder; he's an intense competitor. Matchups aren't always about left to right. Sometimes, there are certain pitchers that a guy's a good fit with and others who they aren't. So those things are up to John and the staff to figure out."

Gomes, 32, had never been paid more than the $1.75 million Cincinnati gave him in 2011. Last season, with Oakland, he was paid $1 million. But he had one of the most productive seasons of his career for the Athletics in 2012, hitting 18 home runs in just 333 plate appearances and posting an .868 OPS, only the third time in his career he has had an OPS of .800 or better. He had a great second half for the Athletics, batting .295/.404/.553/.957, with 10 home runs and 26 RBIs.

His performance also cemented his reputation as a winning player, the Athletics becoming his third team in five seasons (2008 Rays, 2010 Reds, 2012 Athletics) to advance to the playoffs. And those teams certainly weren't consensus picks to be winners.

Gomes insisted that he saw the Athletics' potential in spring training, coming off a year in which they'd gone just 74-88.

"First of all, I'd done it before," he said. "I've watched the movie before. I did it in 2008 with the Rays. Did I see that coming? No. Then, 2010 with the Reds, did I see that coming? A little bit. It starts with spring training. You have to build a winning mentality.

"There wasn't one person benched for not hustling. There wasn't one benched for being late. There weren't any off-field distractions. There were 25 guys with their eye on the prize."

Still, Fort Myers will be a proving ground for Gomes. He has had as many as 500 plate appearances in a season only once in his career, with the Reds in 2010, and the lefty-righty splits were as drastic as ever (.856 OPS/.709), though 12 of his 18 home runs came against righties. He also has a reputation to overcome as a subpar defender; last season, he played just 42 games in the outfield. Gomes said he could also play some first base in a pinch, though he has never played the position in pro ball.

"I take ground balls there all the time," he said. "I think it's another tool for me to add. I think halfway to play a position you're not comfortable with is a willingness to play it. I'll play.

"In this game there are two L's -- leather and lumber -- and you need 'em both."