Commentary

Dee Gordon ready for next move

With Furcal coming off DL on Sunday, exciting young rookie lets his maturity guide him

Updated: July 3, 2011, 10:41 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A couple of hours before Saturday night's game, a point at which almost everyone knew what was going to happen when Rafael Furcal comes off the disabled list Sunday, Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly wasn't about to tip his hand.

Even if it was crystal clear that Dee Gordon, the team's talented, charismatic but still-raw shortstop, was headed back to the minor leagues, that news wasn't going to be leaked from inside the organization even a half-second before it actually happens, not even to the player himself.

"It's somebody's last supper," Mattingly said. "You don't really want them to know that before they enjoy the food."

If this was Gordon's last supper, well, nobody could blame him if he spit it all out into his napkin. In a 7-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels before 42,232 at Angel Stadium, Gordon had his worst possible game, lending a dose of justification to a move that otherwise, if and when it is made, surely would have been hotly debated, questioned and second-guessed on the blogosphere and among what is left of the Dodgers' fan base.

[+] EnlargeDee Gordon
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireAs exciting as Dee Gordon was the last month for the Dodgers, it's also clear he still has plenty of growing to do.

While it is true most of the blame for Saturday's loss lies with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who was coming off back-to-back complete games but was torched for seven run over six innings even as he reached double figures in strikeouts for the third consecutive start, Gordon committed more than his share of glaring gaffes. They included one error that led to an unearned run, another error that indirectly led to two earned runs and a bad decision at home plate that led to his being thrown out at first while still standing in the batter's box.

He also got picked off first base in the third inning.

The Dodgers still didn't send Gordon down after the game -- their tendency all season has been to wait until just before game time to make roster moves -- but regardless of who was on the hook for this team's latest lopsided defeat, Kershaw and Gordon probably will veer off onto dramatically different paths on Sunday: Kershaw has a decent chance of learning he has made the National League All-Star team; Gordon has a more-than-decent chance of learning he has been sent back to Albuquerque.

Whatever news he gets, though, Gordon is ready for it. And this one forgettable game notwithstanding, that maturity is another reason this kid is so special.

"I have to take it however it is," he said. "I have been here, and I have been playing well. If it happens, it happens.

"I love these guys, and I love this team, but God has a plan for everything."

Since he was promoted to the majors for the first time on June 6, Gordon's performance has been a mish-mash, both offensively and defensively. After going hitless in his last seven at-bats, he is batting .232, which isn't very good, but neither is the rest of the Dodgers' offense, and besides, it's still 20 points higher than Furcal is hitting for the season. There have been moments when we have seen thrilling examples of Gordon's speed and the havoc it can create, such as when he stole second, third and home on a single trip around the bases on Friday night against the Angels -- OK, OK, due to a scoring technicality, he didn't officially steal third, but he did swipe it on a pickoff throw to first.

We have seen a guy who can get to balls you can barely imagine any other shortstop getting to, including a back-to-the-infield, snowball catch of a quickly falling pop fly in shallow center Friday night. But we also have seen a guy who sometimes doesn't get to balls that every other shortstop gets to, or at least doesn't field them cleanly when he does.

After the game, Mattingly was asked what Gordon needs to work on if he goes down. Without acknowledging anything of the sort, Mattingly still deftly managed to answer the question.

"He just needs to continue to get better and be more and more consistent," Mattingly said. "Three of the [five] errors he has made have been kind of routine plays, balls that were hit right at him. There was a play in Minnesota [on Monday night] where he just kind of overplayed it, and then there was one early against Houston when he overestimated the guy's [Jason Bourgeois] speed.

"It's exciting when he gets to balls that other guys don't get to, but he needs to make those day-in/day-out kind of plays, and he has for the most part. He is a kid who is going to keep getting better. Honestly, I think what we have seen, nothing really surprises anybody."

By that, Mattingly means neither the great plays nor the rookie mistakes, both of which the Dodgers (37-47) -- who once again are now last in the NL West, 11 games behind the division-leading San Francisco Giants -- knew full well they would get when they promoted Gordon months earlier than they had planned to.

In the bottom of the second Saturday night, with Jeff Mathis on third, one out and the Dodgers' infield playing in, Gordon got a one-hopper from Angels shortstop Erick Aybar and immediately threw home -- or at least in the general vicinity of home. The ball went over the head of catcher Dioner Navarro, giving Navarro no chance to tag Mathis, who probably would have been safe anyway, and allowing Aybar to cruise into second.

Kershaw (8-4) then got Bobby Abreu on a called third strike, which would have been the third out if Gordon had simply conceded the run and gotten Aybar at first. Vernon Wells followed with a three-run homer, effectively breaking the backs of the offensively challenged Dodgers on an evening when the Angels' Jered Weaver (10-4) was as dominating as ever.

"He hit it a little bit farther to my right than I thought," Gordon said of Aybar's grounder. "I should have gone [to first]."

There was another error by Gordon on a two-out grounder by Aybar in the sixth, allowing the final run Kershaw gave up. And then there was that moment in the top of the sixth, when Gordon tried to bunt for a leadoff hit. Thinking he had bunted foul, Gordon stood and watched Mathis glove the ball in front of the plate and throw him out at first.

"I thought it was in the other batter's box," Gordon said.

"He has to run," Mattingly said.

Lesson learned, of course. And there are plenty of them still to come for Gordon, which is why it isn't all that questionable on the part of the Dodgers if they do send him down to make room for Furcal. The Dodgers, like most big league clubs, usually make the easy move whenever they need to clear a roster spot, which means the guy who has minor league options is always the guy to go down no matter how well he is playing. But in Gordon's case, it probably makes sense, even if watching his athletic and often-acrobatic displays are one of the last selling points for these otherwise-dreary Dodgers.

The experience of these last four weeks will help him when he goes back to Triple-A. And it will help him immeasurably when he inevitably comes back to the majors.

"It has taught me a lot," Gordon said. "It has taught me patience. It has taught me definitely how to be a man. A game like tonight, I had to man up. I felt like I let Kersh down, but I had to man up and try to make all the plays I could."

It looks as if Gordon will have to man up again Sunday. It is a challenge he would appear to be ready to meet head-on.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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