PEORIA, Ariz. – Dee Gordon had to show his gratitude. It was moment to cherish with the person who helped make it happen.
So when he saw pitcher Mike Leake enter the clubhouse, he walked up to his new teammate, and gave him a big hug, saying: “Mike, thank you for getting me my first career fly ball in center field.”
Leake played along and replied, “You’re welcome.”
Sure there was more than a hint of sarcasm to the display in front of the media and a few teammates. But it was still a relatively important moment for Gordon and the Mariners.
Acquired in the offseason and asked to convert from second base to center field, Gordon has all the ability and talent to make such a change. He’s looked comfortable in all of the early workouts, but the unknown of making those plays in a game still lingered.
“It’s different because if I drop it, then everybody knows I dropped it,” he said.
While other veterans like Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz are being purposefully delayed from appearing in spring training games, Gordon asked manager Scott Servais to play in several games early in the spring to get accustomed to game speed and action at his new position.
“I needed to get out there and get my feet under me,” he said.
Gordon started in the Cactus League opener on Friday and played three innings without having a single ball hit to him. But Leake and right-hander Chase De Jong gave him some opportunities a day later.
“Yes, just get out it out of the way,” Gordon said. “And the wind was really hostile so it was pretty good to get it out of the way. It was good to get out and catch some fly balls. It was a pretty tough day out there.”
The first came in the first inning with two out. Matt Davidson lofted a high fly into shallow center that Gordon tracked down with ease. He caught another flyout in the second inning and ran down a relatively well-struck drive to the warning track in deep right-center while looking completely at ease with the wall nearing.
“It was good to see him get some chances today,” Servais said. “He handled them perfectly. He needed action. He got some action. It’s a good thing.”
Servais wasn’t surprised that Gordon looked so instinctual in his reads and jumps on fly balls. Since finding out about the position switch, Gordon has put in hours of work to go with his advanced understanding of the game.
“His baseball IQ is so high,” Servais said. “It’s just getting that feel with jumps and reads off the bat in a game. But I’m waiting for that tester play. Today were the easy ones, which is a great way to start. But eventually that will come.”
Gordon hopes that the end of the conversion to center storyline will come as well.
“Now y’all can just think of me as an outfielder,” he joked. “I won’t have to answer any more questions about catching fly balls.”
Well what about throwing from the outfield?
“Oh yeah, I have to do that too,” he said. “Well, I guess I will see y’all in a few days.”
Like it or not, the story line may remain for a while. It’s rare that a Gold Glove-performing infielder is asked to change to outfield at age 30. But the Mariners believe this will benefit him and them going forward. There will still be plenty of scrutiny of every detail of his defense going forward for a while. There are still so many more plays that he’s never experienced that he’ll need to make during a season.
“I don’t see a reason where he can pretty much up to full speed by the time we start our season,” Servais said. “It’s going to take some time. He’s got a ways to go to understanding all the nuances about playing center field.”
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