Gobble 'toes' slab in fine form

Gobble 'toes' slab in fine form

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There have been a lot of funny quips uttered since Jimmy Gobble jammed his right toe on a cactus while playing golf in Arizona in early February.

Royals manager Trey Hillman dubbed him "Jimmy Cac-toe." Players wondered what remote part of the desert Gobble hooked his ball into. Even Gobble cracked that if he'd been in Florida, he'd probably have been bitten by a gator and called "Jimmy Short-a-toe."

The serious part, which was glossed over, was that the thorn remained embedded in his toe, undetected for a month, and affected the left-hander's pitching.

"Maybe," Gobble allowed. "I hate to make excuses. I was trying to protect that [toe] a little bit. It's not like it was some excruciating pain, and it's not the reason I pitched bad. I was still capable of pitching the way I was supposed to. I just didn't."

Even though Gobble soft-pedals the problem, he probably changed his landing on the foot and that threw off his delivery.

When the thorn finally was extracted, it was nearly an inch long.

"It was huge," Hillman said. "It came to the surface and he was finally able to get it out. It was big. There's no doubt that that affected him."

Pitching coach Bob McClure immediately had Gobble pitch in a "B" game and noticed a difference.

"The landing was better, everything was better," McClure said. "I think he was just trying to protect it. Sometimes guys do that. He just got used to the pain, I think."

Afterward, Gobble was clearly relieved.

"The past week or so, I've been a little erratic and I'm not a fan of erratic," Gobble said the next day. "You know how I like to throw strikes. I like to know what I'm doing out there. When it gets a little rocky, I've always been able to throw strikes with all of my pitches. That's how I pitch."

Gobble has since pitched twice in Cactus League games. On Sunday, he pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning with two strikeouts against the San Francisco Giants. On Tuesday, he entered a game against the Chicago Cubs and faced one batter, left-handed hitter Mike Fontenot, and got him on a fly to right.

That left-vs.-left situational pitching is on Gobble's horizon again this season. Last year, he held lefty hitters to a .241 average and had 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats.

Gobble, the 43rd pick in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft, was a starter when he came to the Major Leagues. He made nine starts in late 2003 and 24 more the next year. But after he began 2005 at Triple-A Omaha and returned to Kansas City, the bullpen became his home.

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He's adjusted well and doesn't even think about starting these days.

"I like being out there 70 or however many times I pitched last year [74]; it was fun. I was always in the games. I was always a help to the team when they needed me. Sometimes it was every other day, sometimes it was four days in a row. And to me, that was fun and I enjoyed competing in that way," Gobble said.

Looking back, he believes all the downtime between starts gave him too much time to think, especially after a bad outing.

"Some guys can just analyze it in the right way," Gobble said. "I was kind of a negative guy, I put a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to get out there so bad to prove that I was better than I pitched five days ago. I think some guys are born to be relievers and some guys are born to be starters. So at this point in my career, I'm very happy with where I'm at.

Gobble, from Bristol, Tenn., is an amiable sort who seems laid-back and easy-going in the clubhouse.

"He's a tough kid, though," McClure said. "I didn't even realize it until I was with him for a while. He's a tough kid -- even in here [in the clubhouse]. He's kind of country -- he isn't afraid."

And Gobble wants to make one thing perfectly clear about that cactus on the golf course. His ball was not in the rough, it was awaiting his putt.

"For the record, I did not hit my ball out of bounds," Gobble said. "I was walking to the green."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.