Gordon gets second chance to start over
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Once viewed as the Dodgers' answer at shortstop for years to come, Dee Gordon has undergone a change of positions -- and, more importantly, a change of heart.
A solid Cactus League performance has Gordon in place to start at second base as the Dodgers open the 2014 season in Sydney, Australia, against the D-backs this weekend.
"He's come on quick," said Dodgers coach Davey Lopes, who made a successful transition from center field to second base four decades ago. "I think everybody here feels good about him, how he's gravitated to that position. Dee's playing good defense, and he gives us an element of speed we definitely need.
"I told him this spring, 'If you want this job, you've got to go get it. If you don't, you'll be where you don't want to be.'"
Gordon wants to be in Los Angeles, not Albuquerque.
Broad-shouldered but sleek at 5-foot-11 and 155 pounds, a greyhound who can run with Billy Hamilton or any other player in the game, Gordon admits he had some growing to do internally, emotionally.
Having taken the lead in the race to claim the Dodgers' second-base role -- hitting .286 this spring with four triples and nine steals without getting caught -- Gordon is determined fulfill his mission to become an accomplished, valuable Major League performer.
"I had more pressure on me then at shortstop," he said, referring to the 2012 season when he was handed the position but watched it slip away. "I was young, still learning about myself. A lot of little things happened, and I got hurt.
"My mindset now is to be the best player I can be for the Dodgers. It's not all about me. I'm definitely mentally tougher than I was. I'm not going to sit here and whine, say I got treated wrong. I'm going to adapt to the situation and be a better player."
Gordon's talent never has been the issue. The son of Tom "Flash" Gordon, a quality Major League pitcher for eight organizations across 21 seasons, Dee had star written all over him when he arrived in Los Angeles in June 2011.
Playing 56 games that summer for the Dodgers, at 23, Gordon hit .304, stole 24 bases and showcased remarkable range at shortstop with an arm as powerful as the one his dad had used to blow away hitters.
Manager Don Mattingly had glowing praise, calling him a star. Gordon opened the 2012 season at shortstop, leading off -- but never took off. By the end of April, he was hitting .207 with a .247 on-base percentage.
On July 4, those numbers were .229 and .280, but Gordon was leading the National League in stolen bases when he injured his right thumb stealing third. By the time he returned to the Dodgers on Sept. 11, they had acquired Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins.
Shortstop in L.A. now belonged to a superstar. Gordon spent 2013 in Triple-A Albuquerque with a few cameos in L.A., hitting .234 for the Dodgers in 94 at-bats. Serving primarily as a pinch-runner, he appeared in 27 games at shortstop, three at second base.
At Albuquerque, there were signs of progress in Gordon's .385 OBP and .297 batting average. He showed a willingness to expand his versatility by playing center field as well as second base in winter ball in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Shortstop remains in Ramirez's capable hands, but Hanley's partner in the middle of the infield is an open-ended issue with steady Mark Ellis having signed with the Cardinals as a free agent.
Cuban signee Alex Guerrero was considered the early front-runner, but he's a natural shortstop, like Gordon, and is trying to figure out second base. With Guerrero likely to start the season in the Minors, Gordon is at second with multiposition veterans Chone Figgins and Justin Turner in support.
Mattingly has hinted at a platoon, with the lefty-swinging Gordon facing right-handers. He's a .271 career hitter against righties, .221 vs. lefties.
Figgins, an athlete with similar skills who played his way to All-Star status as an Angel, has occupied the locker next to Gordon this spring and served as willing mentor to the younger player.
"Chone has been great," Gordon said. "He has a lot of knowledge, a lot of insights. I really appreciate his experience and how much he's helped me."
Figgins sees Gordon as a player with unlimited potential once he unlocks all the keys.
"He has everything you're looking for -- speed, athleticism, desire, skills," Figgins said. "He can become a really special player. He just has to be patient and trust his talent."
Lopes feels the key for Gordon mentally was letting go of the notion that he's a shortstop only and understanding the value of expanding his options.
"He felt good about making the transition to second, which wasn't necessarily the case earlier," Lopes said. "He wasn't fighting it. He slowed the game down; sometimes that's what you have to do.
"I'm sure he realizes this is a great opportunity. He showed how much he wanted it when he went to the Dominican and then Venezuela to work on things. I think he's got confidence now. He's matured, grown up."
Lopes believes Gordon can become an offensive weapon by "putting the ball on the ground, bunting, taking advantage of his speed. He's exciting to watch."
Gordon has a large support group with his five siblings, and he speaks daily by phone with his father, who watches every game at home in Orlando, Fla. Dee especially appreciates the unconditional love of his niece, Londyn Gordon.
"She's 4, and she's on my side no matter what," Dee Gordon said, beaming. "Good or bad, she doesn't care."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.