Former Raptors' speedster fills big role for Dodgers

Feb 29 2012 - 8:34pm

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(JAE C. HONG/The Associated Press)
Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dee Gordon works out during a spring training practice in Phoenix, on Tuesday.
(JAE C. HONG/The Associated Press)
Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dee Gordon works out during a spring training practice in Phoenix, on Tuesday.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Too bad Dee Gordon's father had the nickname "Flash" in his more than two decades as a major league pitcher. It would fit his stunningly speedy son perfectly.

The younger Gordon might be the fastest player in the game. Entering his first full season in the majors, the 23-year-old will be the leadoff batter and everyday shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"He causes havoc," manager Don Mattingly said. "Some craziness is going to happen. When you're playing against teams that have that speed, it can drive you crazy."

Last year, Gordon -- who started his pro career with the Ogden Raptors -- stole 24 bases in 56 games and was caught seven times. Project that to 162 games, and that's 69 steals.

He accomplished last year's total despite a .325 on-base percentage. No telling what he could do if he made it safely to first more often.

Mattingly wants Gordon to be more selective at the plate, saying he saw improvement late in the season.

"We expect him to make mistakes and we expect him not to be the perfect guy right now," the manager said. "We're asking him to just keep getting better and let that ability shine, and we're going to like it."

Dodgers position players don't have to report to the team's Arizona spring training facility until Monday, but Gordon and most of the others already have arrived.

Gordon is the son of longtime closer Tom Gordon. The polite youngster, who peppers his answers with "sir," said on Sunday that he appreciates the confidence Mattingly has shown in him.

"It's an honor, you know," he said. "I'm very honored to have a guy like Donnie put me in that type of situation. And I'm also ready. I'm ready to play at a high level and help this team play at one, too."

He certainly is comfortable in a major league clubhouse. After all, he's been in them since he was a kid tagging along with his father, who won 138 games and had 158 saves with eight teams from 1988 to 2009.

"It's just fun, getting to go on the field with your dad," Gordon said. "Now being on the field for me, it's a surreal experience."

Asked to describe his defense, Gordon said, "Better."

He committed 10 errors after being called up from Triple-A Albuquerque in late July. He said he worked out in the offseason with former Cincinnati Reds great Barry Larkin, who this year was elected to the Hall of Fame.

"I want to be the best I can be to help the team win ballgames, go to the playoffs and one day win the World Series," Gordon said. "I want to be that guy for this team."

That attitude impresses his manager.

"That's kind of what we love about Dee," Mattingly said. "He's trying to get better. He's going to keep working. He's really not a guy that I sit here and really worry about because I know he's going to keep working and he's going to keep getting better all the time, and I also know that we're going to have to be a little bit patient at times."

Gordon drew just seven walks last season while striking out 27 times. Mattingly wants him to try to work his way into a favorable pitch count more often.

"There's times you work that count, you get to 2-0 it's a good place to take one," Mattingly said.

Gordon's job, Mattingly said, is "basically to get on base, and that's any way possible."

"To me a lot of times with a guy like Dee, you get that pitcher and he's like 'I can't walk this guy' and then he's having trouble throwing strikes," the manager said.

The Dodgers' Chad Billingsley knows what it's like to be on the mound with a fast guy dancing around off first base.

"It can be very distracting,"' Billingsley said, "especially later in the game. He gets on base in the seventh or eighth inning and you're up by one or two runs. You've got to make sure he doesn't get a good jump. If he walks, gets a single, it's almost like it turns into a double right away."

Last year, Gordon hit one barely out of the infield and turned it into a double.

As Billingsley put it, "The guy just flies."

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