ANAHEIM -- Dee Gordon is an immensely likeable player, on a few levels. Start with the aesthetics. First, listed at 150 pounds (and it’s possible he was holding some free weights during the listing process), he’s stick-in-your-pocket, turn-sideways-and-he-disappears little. Combined with a baby face, every time he takes the field it’s like some Take Your Son To Work Day promotion gone haywire. Bouncers won’t stop carding him until he’s 70.
Gordon isn’t yet a glittering interview but is quick to laugh and sports a rock-solid sense of humor.
Oh, and he’s fast.
Really, really fast with quicks off the charts -- and fast and quick are monumentally entertaining in a sport criticized for the amount of time players spend standing still. When he’s on base, Gordon is as much a must-watch player as the Dodgers have in uniform.
The problem, though, is he’s not on base nearly enough.
Heading into Saturday’s game in Anaheim, Gordon was mired in an 0-for-17 slump, and his on-base percentage, while still higher than his low-water mark for the year, was .269. For sake of comparison, that would be the NL’s 40th-best batting average. As a leadoff hitter, it was even worse: .252, table setting only if the meal will be eaten off a dirty floor.
On a team without excess offense in a lineup with only a couple of feared hitters, for the guys ahead of them to get on base is important. Gordon hasn’t done it.
Then there are days like Saturday, reminding why manager Don Mattingly keeps putting him out there. Chris Capuano was a star for the Blue, earning his ninth win of the year in the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory, but Gordon was the team’s best position player by a mile. Two hits, two runs scored, a stolen base and a spectacular run-saving play up the middle in the fifth off the bat of Mike Trout. Diving to his left, Gordon fully extended to snare a ball off an awkward hop, bounced almost impossibly fast off the ground, touched second and nearly nicked the ultra-speedy Trout at first.
“I told him he was out,” Gordon said smiling after the game. “I don’t know if he was safe or not, I didn’t look. But from my vision, I felt like we should have gotten him.”
Not that he’s biased or anything.
“All the times we talk about Dee and what he hasn’t done, you see a game like this,” Mattingly said after the win. “He makes a play up the middle and turns it. … He hits the triple when they’re kind of playing him cheap. Hit, stolen base, they try to get him at third and that gets us a run. He was exciting today.”
Gordon, never short on confidence despite the spotty results, said he believes he has been on the upswing for a little while.
“Since I came back from my detention. I was in detention for a few days,” he said, referencing a three-game stretch last month when he was out of the starting lineup. “I’ve been hitting the ball well, just having tough luck. But you know what, it’s a grown-man league. I’m a grown man, so you’ve just got to take it for what it is.”
Debatable as his interpretation of events might be, it’s fairly important Gordon not lose confidence, because save the return of Matt Kemp (no small thing, obviously), the Dodgers' lineup isn’t rich with guys you’d expect to produce more going forward than they are now. Without much in the way of alternatives, Mattingly likely puts Gordon on the field at the top of the lineup as long as he can.
“We could put him at the end, and it just kind of muffles him. He can’t even run. So the times that he gets on, he can’t really do anything,” Mattingly said. “You’re right, I’d love to have a guy with a .400 OBP up there and getting on base all the time. But we really don’t have that guy. This is who we are and this is what we do and it’s kind of how we win.”
In the meantime, Mattingly, who has praised Gordon’s work ethic, will preach patience with a guy who started playing ball as a senior in high school and is now in the majors, learning on the job.
There aren’t many players with Gordon’s offensive profile left in the game. Fans who a few years ago lamented Juan Pierre’s periodic struggles to get on base enough to justify his lack of pop (and horrible arm) would love Gordon to reach that level heading into the second half. Likely, it won’t happen. But given where he is, even incremental improvement for Gordon could make a major difference in the Dodgers’ offense.
At least after Saturday, people have a reminder of what it is they’re waiting for.