- Mark Saxon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dee Gordon didn't forget how to play baseball just because the Dodgers traded for Hanley Ramirez, but his challenge now is to make sure the team doesn't forget about him.
Gordon is at a pivotal age, 25, as he tries to stick as an everyday player. The most likely outcome on Opening Day is that he will be at Triple-A Albuquerque.
Gordon dislocated his thumb sliding into third base last July and, by the time he returned, the Dodgers had traded for Ramirez, a three-time All-Star. Luis Cruz was so hot, there was nowhere to put Gordon. So, now he is in Arizona fighting to salvage a career that seemed on the verge of taking off just 10 months ago.
Gordon said he was dejected shortly after he found his job had been taken. His father, Tom "Flash" Gordon, advised him to ignore all the trade rumors this winter. Now, he's trying to grow from the whole episode.
"I had never failed at anything in my life. It was new to me," Gordon said. "I honestly didn’t know how to handle it, being 24 years old. It just taught me how to be strong, how to take the pitfalls of the game. I feel like I'm a better player now."
Making Gordon a more valuable player seems easy enough, on the surface. With blinding speed, he simply needs to find his way to first base more often. That's a lot harder than it sounds. After a promising 2011 season, Gordon batted .228 last year. His .299 career on-base percentage makes him a dubious choice as a leadoff hitter.
But when Gordon became conscious of walking more, he wound up taking too many strikes and swinging at too many balls. It led to a downward spiral that gave impetus to the Dodgers' desire to land Ramirez. By the time players reach the major leagues, it often is difficult to make drastic changes to their approach.
"I’m not that type of hitter," Gordon said. "I look for my pitch to hit. If I get it, I swing. Last year, I wasn’t swinging at my pitches because I was trying to work counts and get on base."
The Dodgers have seen a little more patience from Gordon this spring -- he leads the team with six walks -- and they have seen him create his usual havoc on the bases. When he stole second base against the Texas Rangers on Thursday, the stadium sound system played the theme from, "Speed Racer."
The Dodgers say they are seeing a better-rounded player than they saw a year ago.
"I told him, ‘When they quit talking about how fast you are and say, 'Hey, this kid's a baseball player,' then we’re going to be in great shape." manager Don Mattingly said.