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Figgins, Gordon in 2B battle

3/13/2014

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Chone Figgins has been at the top of the baseball world, a reserve on the 2002 World Series champion Angels, a guy who twice scored 100 runs and signed a big free-agent contract. He's been at the bottom of the baseball world, bottoming out in Seattle when he hit .188 in 2011 and .181 in 2012. Cut by the Marlins in spring training last year, the Dodgers invited him to spring training in what's likely the last gasp of his baseball career.

You probably couldn't find a more similar player physically to Figgins than Dee Gordon. They're both short and thinner than a Fashion Week runway model, with games built on speed and energy. Both are infielders by trade. Figgins was once one of the fastest players in the game; Gordon, with the younger legs, is maybe the fastest player this side of Billy Hamilton. But he, too, is perhaps on his last chance of sorts, the final opportunity to prove to the Dodgers that he can start in the major leagues.

They're battling for the starting second-base job with the Dodgers in what is perhaps one of the more intriguing position battles of spring training (Cuban free agent Alex Guerrero is almost assuredly going to start the season in Triple-A).

"I think I have 29 at-bats and have nine walks," Figgins said before Thursday's game against the Reds. "Some people are looking at it like he's not getting hits, but I look at like I may have only five hits but I have nine walks and that's 14 times on base in 29 at-bats. That's always been my goal, getting on base."

Figgins, the wise veteran, nailed his stats. Hey, every walk matters when you're fighting for a job. He's hitting just .172, but does have a .368 on-base percentage and his versatility -- he can play second, third and the outfield -- could land him a job as a utility guy, or at least a trip to Australia to start the season when the Dodgers play two games there against the Diamondbacks on March 22-23.

"It's been good here," he said. "Don's [manager Don Mattingly] been fair and giving me a chance. He knows I'm going to battle, try to get my pitch to hit. I'm not going to swing at a fastball inside because I'm not going to do much with that pitch. I'll look for something over the plate or low and away.

"It's interesting. Teams are always looking for guys who can see a lot of pitches and get on and after getting released from the Marlins, I was like 'Hello?'"

After the Marlins cut him, Figgins didn't play any baseball or even take any swings. He didn't want to go to the minors because he wouldn't have been assured of getting back to the majors. He's returned to his old swing, with his hands lower, resting on his shoulder. He said after he began struggling in Seattle he raised his hands higher, which he now says he probably shouldn't have done.

"Don and the hitting coaches looked at the video and said that's not the way you used to hit. They said just do what's most comfortable," he said.

While Figgins sat out all of 2013, Gordon spent most of the year at Triple-A Albuquerque, where he hit .298/.385/.390 with 49 steals. Once viewed as the Dodgers' future at shortstop, he's now learning second base, which he played a bit last year at Triple-A.

"The biggest thing I've had to learn is the angles, taking different angles on certain balls," Gordon said. "It's all about the reps, just getting more reps," he said, believing his footwork on the double play has improved.

Gordon knows the baseball life. He's the son of former major leaguer Tom Gordon, so despite his prospect pedigree he knows nothing is guaranteed. "I'm just trying to open some eyes. You have to prove yourself. I feel I've done that so far."

Gordon got most enthusiastic when asked about his younger brother, Nick, maybe the top shortstop prospect in this year's draft. "I talk to him all the time, almost every day," he said. Talking to your younger brother can help take the pressure off trying impress the big league brass.

While veterans often give out advice, Figgins said he's mostly remained quiet this spring. "I don't really say too much right now since I'm not on the team," he said.


Both players were in Thursday's lineup, Gordon hitting leadoff and playing second base, Figgins batting second and playing center field. As I write this in the third inning, Gordon hits a ground ball single to left off Alfredo Simon. Figgins then works the count to 2-1, gets a pitch up in the zone and lines a hard single to right just past second baseman Skip Schumaker.

It occurs to me: Gordon's grounder could have gone right to an infielder instead of finding a hole. If Brandon Phillips is playing second base instead of Schumaker, maybe he makes the play on Figgins' hit. Figgins would tell you the little things matter, especially in the limited sample size that spring training presents. But a few at-bats is all Figgins has. He got his sixth hit of the spring and that extra hit or two could make all the difference in making the team.