Saturday, June 28, 2014
Gordon keeps making his case for Dodgers
By Brian Kamenetzky Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- He still looks as if he sneaked into the park through a hole in a fence, then into the clubhouse putting on a uniform originally slated for a bat boy. Even after an offseason of weightlifting left him 13 pounds heavier -- still listed at only 170 pounds -- we're talking almost 10 percent of his body weight, though one sideways turn and he can nearly disappear.
And despite posting All-Star worthy numbers over the first half of the season, Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon still doesn't like talking about himself. After going 3-for-5 with two doubles, an RBI, and a run scored Saturday in a 9-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Gordon dutifully tried to escape the Dodgers' clubhouse before the media could reach him, backpack slung over his shoulder. Were we at USC's Dedeaux Field instead of Chavez Ravine, you'd think he was heading home to study for finals.
Dee Gordon, right, has almost as many extra-base hits (22) this season for the Dodgers as he had (26) from 2011 to 2013.
"I'm just trying to get better and better every day, and just see pitches and put good swings on it," Gordon said. "That's about it."
Not exactly the type of self-promotion likely to land him in Minnesota on July 15 for the All-Star Game, no matter how much he'd like to go, though if storyline were the primary criteria, Gordon would be a sure thing. After hitting .304 over 224 at bats as a rookie in 2011, Gordon cratered in 2012 and 2013, batting .228 and .234, respectively, with an on-base percentage entirely too low for someone without any pop. Heading into spring training this year, it was believed the Dodgers had a massive hole at second base, and were allowing Gordon to audition there largely because they lacked other strong options.
It was more a courtesy than a real opportunity. Then Gordon won the job and tore it up in April. After a slow May, he has rebounded well, raising his average more than 20 points between June 2-28 to .297. Overall, Gordon's OBP this month is a robust .368, and just to make sure people are paying attention before All-Star rosters are finalized, he has gone 11 for his past 17.
"I think Dee's just more confident," manager Don Mattingly said. "I think you see him growing in that way. You see him a lot more confident, even with two strikes. He's not afraid to get a strike on him, now. He's not afraid to get into the count. He's showing that patience you need for that guy up top [of the lineup] but also showing the confidence that he's not afraid, and feels he needs to swing at the first pitch all the time."
And while he's hardly a power hitter, the extra oomph provided by his offseason regimen has paid major dividends. His .409 slugging percentage is easily a career high. In 298 at-bats this year, Gordon has 22 extra-base hits, only four fewer than he recorded over 621 at-bats between 2011 and 2013. Saturday, Gordon's first double came when he ripped a high, inside 94-mph fastball from Cardinals starter Lance Lynn into the right-field corner, something he couldn't do before. The strength and bat speed to turn a pitch like that around simply wasn't there.
"I think he's surprising everybody with his number of extra-base hits this year," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "As a catcher, facing a guy like that, it used to be, 'Don’t walk him. His best bolt's going to be a single.' But it's changed. If you lay one in there, he's going to hurt you."
Walking Gordon still comes at a price -- he leads the majors with 40 stolen bases -- but now grooving fastballs to avoid walks does, too.
Whether his current rally is enough to get Gordon to Target Field remains to be seen. There is stiff competition at his position. Philadelphia's Chase Utley has lapped the field in fan voting. Pittsburgh's Neil Walker leads the group in home runs with 11. Milwaukee's Scooter Gennett leads qualified candidates in average and OPS. New York's Daniel Murphy has been rock solid. Gordon's profile is strong. Strong enough?
It'll be close.
But that there's even a discussion means Gordon has already won.