PORT CHARLOTTE — Nathan Culp, who would be charting the game that night in the summer of 2009 from a seat in the stands behind home plate, had recently won a Flip Cam in some sort of contest. It was a small stroke of good fortune that gave Brandon Gomes an idea.
After a rocky start to his season, Gomes finally found his groove on the mound and wanted to record his mechanics for future reference. So Gomes asked Culp, his teammate on the San Diego Padres Double-A team that summer, to tape him pitching if he entered the game.
Gomes did, and Culp trained his new video camera on the mound.
Gomes searched for the clip this winter, finally finding it on the hard drive of an old computer.
“I ended up looking at that and said, ‘Wow, that’s what it should look like,’ ” Gomes said.
Gomes changed his diet and conditioning this offseason, hoping to eliminate the injuries that have hampered him over the past few seasons. He also changed his mechanics, going back to the way he pitched in 2009 and 2010, before his trade to the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I feel like I used to, and the ball is coming out the way I’d like it to with the command that I feel like I can have,” Gomes said.
The right-hander, who has been in and out of the Rays’ bullpen since 2011, finds himself in the yearly spring battle for the final spot in the bullpen.
This year, he is joined by Josh Lueke, Brad Boxberger and Mark Lowe, all right-handers. Of the four, only Lueke is out of options, meaning a tiebreaker could go to Lueke, while the other three head to Triple-A Durham.
“I’m used to it. It’s part of the business,” Gomes said. “I’m just trying to get myself as good as I possibly can be. If that’s good enough to make the team, great. If not, it’s not the same seven guys in the bullpen the whole year. It’s impossible, just because you’re going to have an extra-inning game at some point and you’re going to need an arm.”
Lowe has the most big-league experience of the four, having pitched in the majors since 2006 for all of or parts of each season. He doesn’t have the swing-and-miss stuff of the other three, but he does have the experience.
Boxberger, acquired from the Padres in late January, has appeared in 42 big-league games over the past two seasons, recording 57 strikeouts in 492⁄3 combined innings.
Lueke has been up and down with the Rays the past two years, compiling a 6.93 ERA.
Gomes has a 4.38 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 74 career innings.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said the decision will not be based solely on spring training performance. In fact, that might be the last criteria.
Jamey Wright beat out Gomes for the final spot last year despite having a subpar spring. Wright had 17 years in the big leagues, and the Rays liked his body of work during his career.
“We’re just lucky to have that many good names, physically and mentally,” Maddon said about this year’s field. “Guys who don’t make team have major-league makeup, too.”
Gomes’ return to Triple-A Durham last season didn’t last long.
He was recalled April 5 to replace the injured Jeff Niemann. But Gomes missed 88 games with a right lat strain that sent him to the disabled list May 8.
That was one reason Gomes changed his offseason routine. There is another source of Gomes’ confidence, and it stems from the cutter he started throwing last October. Gomes was not part of the postseason roster, but he remained with the team in case the Rays needed another bullpen arm.
Wright showed Gomes how to throw the pitch. Wright uses his cutter against lefties. Gomes, who has struggled against lefties — a .357 average and three home runs allowed last season — was eager to learn the pitch.
Gomes said he will scrap his slider this season and go with a fastball, splitter and cutter.
If those pitches are good enough to earn him a spot on the Opening Day roster, fine. If not, Gomes knows the drill.
“I’ve pitched in pretty big situations the last few years, even though I haven’t broken camp with the team. I’m not concerned,” he said. “I’m just getting myself ready for when they put me in in September I’m ready to go.”