Commentary

Yankees to start Brian Gordon. Who?

Thirty-two-year-old minor league outfielder-turned-pitcher takes mound Thursday

Updated: June 16, 2011, 8:31 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Brian Gordon to start for the Yankees, Thursday, 1:05 p.m. at the Stadium!

Brian Gordon? Who?

In this day and age, when we know everything and anything about everybody and anybody, it is sort of fun that the first reaction to the Yankees' starter for Thursday is, "Who?"

[+] EnlargeBrian Gordon
John Williamson/Getty ImagesNo, Brian Gordon isn't starting for the Rangers on Thursday in the Bronx. He's taking the mound for the Yankees after a pretty remarkable journey.

Here is a quick snapshot: Gordon is a 32-year-old right-handed pitcher with eye-popping minor league numbers this year.

In 1997, the Diamondbacks drafted him as an outfielder. As a .275 hitter, he never made it to the majors with Arizona or later Houston.

A decade after being drafted, in the Astros' organization, he asked to be converted to the mound. He was, with the help of his hometown hero, Nolan Ryan.

Two years later, he was a reliever in three games for Ryan's Texas Rangers, but he has not been back to the majors since.

In all, Gordon has played 15 seasons in professional baseball. Thursday will be his first major league start, and he is facing the Rangers.

The scouting report on his stuff is that he throws six pitches, none of them particularly hard.

"Sometimes the radar gun doesn't tell the whole story," said Rangers bench coach Jackie Moore, who was Gordon's minor league manager when he switched from the outfield to the mound in 2007. "He's a kid with a big heart, a lot of determination. Baseball is his life."

This year, Gordon lit up the International League with the Phillies' Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, going 5-0 with a 1.14 ERA. With Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels blocking his path, Gordon used a contractual opt-out that allowed him to jump to the majors if the timing was right.

With Bartolo Colon injured, the Yankees decided to take a flier.

[+] EnlargeBrian Gordon
AP Photo/Ed AndrieskiOh yeah -- Gordon was an outfielder until 2007. Lately, he's been lighting up the minors.

And now Gordon could be the 2011 edition of Aaron Small.

"It sends a message to everyone who plays the game of baseball, 'Don't give up,'" Moore said. "If you get the opportunity, take a chance on it. He is pitching in Yankee Stadium."

With the Red Sox outpacing the Yankees, this is what their rotation has to turn to and hope for -- another miraculous, feel-good story. This is not what is usually expected with a $200 million payroll.

The Yankees are a team of All-Stars, backed up with a bunch of guys who could make the All-Google team. In other words, you have to Google all their new players to find out who they are and where they come from.

On Wednesday, it was reliever Corey Wade. He pitched in 82 games with the Dodgers a few years back. He joined the crew and threw a hitless inning in a 12-4 rout of the Rangers.

But a rotation that was supposed to be dependent on Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte has had to turn to the Colons, Freddy Garcias and now Gordons of the world. Colon is out with a hamstring injury, and with his body shaped like a bowling ball, who knows whether he will miss just two starts or more.

Phil Hughes is rehabbing, trying to find his 2010 first-half form so he can be the 2011 second-half savior.

In the bullpen, the Yankees have to look to guys such as Wade, Luis Ayala and Jeff Marquez because Joba Chamberlain is done for the season. Meanwhile, Rafael Soriano is now out until after the All-Star break and with each day seems more and more destined to be the Carl Pavano of relievers. On Thursday, they turn to Gordon.

His improbable story really began in 2007 when he was 28. After failing to make the majors as an outfielder -- he has 119 minor league homers -- he asked Moore whether he could pitch. The Astros, as the story goes, had him work with a guy who knew how to work from a mound.

Ryan became Gordon's tutor. Ryan and Gordon are both from Round Rock, Texas, and Ryan owned the Triple-A team in town. There was a spark right away, which seemed appropriate because the last time Gordon was on the mound in Round Rock he was unbeatable.

"I don't think he lost a game in high school," Moore said. "Arizona signed him. They signed him as an outfielder. I think in the bottom of his heart, he always wanted to pitch."

Ryan told Gordon that to pitch in the big time, his fastball would be his most important pitch, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"He said, 'For this to work, you have to be able to command your fastball and throw strikes or nobody is going to give you a chance,'" Gordon told the Inquirer.

Gordon has done that. In his 55 1/3 innings at Triple-A this year, he struck out 56 and walked seven.

In August, Gordon turns 33. By then, he has to hope he is a regular Yankee and you know everything about him because that will mean he finally has made it. On Thursday, even his opponents are rooting for him.

"I hope we beat him 1-0," Moore said.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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