GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jeanmar Gomez has shown this spring that he can be a valuable part of the Indians' pitching staff. He took it a step further Monday, demonstrating that he can be a valuable piece in the department where they need someone to emerge: the starting rotation.In his fourth Cactus League appearance -- but first as a starter -- Gomez was lights out against the Dodgers, limiting Los Angeles to just one hit and one walk in four innings. The hit was a one-out triple off the bat of two-time All-Star Andre Ethier, who was stranded after Gomez induced two popups. "He knew coming in that he was in a battle for a job and he's been sharp from Day 1," manager Manny Acta said. "That's the difference between him and a couple of the guys. They've been off on their secondary pitches or not throwing enough strikes. This is the time of year they should be ahead of the hitters. And he clearly proved that he came into camp ready to go." As one of a handful in competition for the final spot in Cleveland's rotation -- likely behind Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Derek Lowe and Josh Tomlin -- the 24-year-old Gomez has thrived in Arizona. He's now 1-0 with a spotless 0.00 ERA in 11 innings.
This comes after appearances with the big league club in 2010 and '11 (11 outings each year, and 21 of the 22 total appearances were starts), combining for a 9-8 record with a 4.58 ERA.But Gomez said Monday he feels healthier this season -- he has dealt with tendinitis and inflammation in his right knee -- after an offseason of rest, relaxation and a slew of ice packs. "Today, my right knee felt good," said Gomez, who threw 54 pitches and struck out three on Monday. "In the bullpen, I don't feel anything, I don't feel sore. I tried to rest one month, didn't do anything -- just ice and relax. And after that it was stretching and ice every day, and it helped." Gomez doesn't necessarily have top-notch stuff -- over 22 big league appearances, he's only averaged five strikeouts per nine innings, and on Monday he was throwing in the 90-91-mph range -- but he said over his time with the Indians, he's learned to recognize situations and not get too caught up beyond the one hitter he's facing. And he's throwing strikes, which has Acta's eye. It also begs the question of how Gomez would fit as a bullpen piece if he doesn't make the rotation. "First things first; he's still competing for that fifth spot as a starter," Acta said. "But he fits well in that type of situation because he throws strikes and he can give us length, and we're looking for somebody that can do that out of the 'pen. But right now, we're not looking at him as a bullpen guy at all." At this point, Gomez insists he's not thinking too much about where he ends up. Even if the starter's role suited him so nicely Monday. "I don't try to think too much about the future," Gomez said. "Just focus on today, and tomorrow's another day. ... My pitches were good today, so that helped me. It was a good job by Carlos Santana, and I got help, too, from the defense and the offense."