Seattle Mariners

Mariners' Dee Gordon experiment is already paying off. His top 5 plays so far

Seattle Mariners' Dee Gordon rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Cleveland Indians during a baseball game, Sunday, April 1, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seattle Mariners' Dee Gordon rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Cleveland Indians during a baseball game, Sunday, April 1, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) AP Photo

It’s been said a few times, but it bears repeating.

Dee Gordon had never played a game in center field until this season – besides a handful of starts there in the Dominican Winter League more than four years ago.

But never in a major league game.

So … now that the Mariners are 10 games in, combined with more than a month of starts in spring training, how is that going?

“I thought that would be a challenge for him,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said last week. “With Arizona with the wind and the bright skies and the sunshine and the whole thing – he did a great job out there. Really flawless.

“Different ball parks and the uniqueness of where the wall is at, how to time certain things and getting a feel for reading balls off the bat – it does take time. You want to get as familiar as you can as fast as you can. But I’m not worried about Dee Gordon. He’s a pro.”

Gordon has not only shown impressive range as a first-time center fielder, but as the catalyst to the Mariners offense. He’s hit in every game so far and has five stolen bases.

That's not to say it has been perfect.

Gordon appeared to take a step back on a broken-bat fly ball his way in the season opener at Safeco Field. He later said he actually slipped, but the ball dropped in front of him for an RBI single in what would be the Indians’ only run in a 2-1 Mariners win.

“He’s reading the swing,” Servais said. “And he takes a step back and slips a little bit. That’s the play – a little bit of a hiccup – that you’ll see once in a while until Dee gets totally comfortable out there. It happens to a lot of center fielders, not just Dee.”

Gordon also later took the blame for back-to-back doubles against the Twins when it looked like Ichiro should have made the plays. Gordon said he didn’t communicate well enough.

He also once ran into left-fielder Guillermo Heredia, but still made the catch.

This feels like nit-picking.

“I think not enough people understand that I’ve only been playing center field for like, what? A month?” Gordon said. “If I had been perfect at this to start the season then somebody should get me a Gold Glove.”

He’s honest in his answers. Yes, he does miss playing second base, where he won a Gold Glove in 2015 and maybe should have won another last year with the Marlins. And, yes, he was shocked when the Mariners told him they’d use him in center field.

Dee Gordon feature3.jpg
Seattle Mariners' Dee Gordon, left, greets Hall of Famer Willie Mays before the start of an opening day baseball game between the San Francisco Giants and the Mariners Tuesday, April 3, 2018, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

To his credit he bought an outfield glove the day he learned of the trade, worked diligently with former outfielder and current Mariners’ first-base coach Chris Prieto and some with Ken Griffey Jr., while now playing alongside Ichiro, who once said he saw much of himself in Gordon.

Griffey and Ichiro have a combined 20 outfield Gold Gloves.

And Gordon’s father, Tom “Flash” Gordon, spent 21 years as a big-league pitcher. Servais has raved about Dee’s baseball IQ and that’s certainly helped make for a more seamless transition to center field.

He got to shake hands with legendary Giants' center fielder Willie Mays before the Mariners' played the Giants in San Francisco last week. And this week he visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum while they were in Kansas City and revealed that his favorite player growing up was speedy center fielder Cool Papa Bell. He wears his pants legs high to emulate Bell.

“I think it’s cooler (playing center field), honestly,” Gordon said. “But I love second base and I do miss it. But I just want to help us win games.

“I’m learning. It’s not easy to go play in the big leagues at a position you’ve never played at where the hitters are conditioned and ready to hit and I got to be able to make the catch. I’ve never done that before – going to the gap to my right. I first got here and it was tough. First got to spring it was tough. I had a lot of those plays over there. It’s part of the game.”

Then he made a diving catch at Safeco Field running to his right.

He’s made it look much easier than it probably is.

“I just want the ball to go into that brown thing over there,” Gordon said, pointing to the glove in locker recently. “That’s it. I don’t care how it looks. As long as I get the outs for these guys and give us a chance to go back into the dugout as quickly as possible.”

He’s certainly been electric in more than just center field.

Here’s a look at Gordon's best five plays through the Mariners’ first 10 games:

5. Jump catch

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The ball was hit well off Evan Longoria’s bat toward the center-field wall 399 feet away on April 3. Gordon tracked it all the way and leaped.

He didn’t hit the wall, but he never looked back at it (not until he was on his way down) so he couldn’t have known if he was or not. Certainly a tough play for a new center fielder. He tossed the ball to himself seemingly in delight as he sprinted back to the dugout.

He had a similar rangy play against the Royals on Wednesday, running and stretching to his right to catch Jorge Soler’s fly out.

4. Strong arm

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Scott Servais was mic’d up on the Root Sports spring training broadcast when a botched pickoff attempt at second base sent the ball to center field.

Gordon snagged it and fired a rope to third base to get Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell sprinting for the extra base.

“Look at that throw, Oh my. Wow,” Servais said as it was happening. “Whoever thinks Dee Gordon can’t win a Gold Glove – it’s going to be really fun to watch. That was awesome … I’m telling you his baseball IQ, his instincts are off the chart. Having played in the middle of the field his whole career, he understands the importance of those little things.”

He also threw out a couple of runners at the plate during spring training, including Justin Upton after Albert Pujols’ single up the middle, with Gordon flying onto his stomach after looking like he air-mailed the throw home.

3. Steal, steal

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This set the tone for the Mariners’ 8-3 win over the Royals on Tuesday.

One day after the Mariners had just two hits in a 10-0 loss, Dee Gordon was hit by a pitch to lead off the game. Then he swiped second-base before taking off for third.

And that was with left-handed hitting Robinson Cano at the plate, giving catcher Drew Butera a clean line-of-sight to third base. Gordon slid in easily.

Cano walked and Mitch Haniger followed with a single to score Gordon.

Has Gordon been everything the Mariners' have have hoped for?

"Even more," Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said on his 710-AM radio show on Thursday. "He finds a way. He finds away to get himself on base. He’s been remarkable in terms of being a catalyst … and what he does on the bases, he’s already tallied five stolen bases and played what I think is excellent defense for the most part."

Gordon led the majors with 60 stolen bases with the Marlins last year. At this rate he'd have more than 80 this year.

2. Power play

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The Mariners’ traded for Gordon this offseason because of his power, right?

“Yeah … I mean, no,” Gordon laughed. “No, not at all.”

But there was the bat drop as Gordon launched what was the go-ahead home run in the Mariners’ eventual 5-4 victory over the Indians on April 1 to clinch the series win against a team that won 102 games last year.

Gordon hit two home runs in 2017.

1. Diving (sliding?) catch

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Second baseman Jason Kipnis played 11 games in center field for the Indians last year because of injuries. So he knows a thing or two about what Gordon is going through.

Before Gordon hit that go-ahead home run on April 1, Kipnis send a liner to left-center field. Again, that’s a direction Gordon isn’t used to heading toward.

But Gordon tracked it, dived (slided?) and corralled the ball for an out. Keep in mind that it was the third game in his life playing center field at Safeco Field.

Gordon’s average sprint speed on the bases was 29.7 feet per second, the fourth-best of any player in the majors and the best of any non-center fielder.

That's not bad for a guy who said his favorite restaurant in this area so far is the Burgermaster in Bellevue.

He entered 2018 with 523 games played at second base, 163 at shortstop and zero in the outfield. Gordon could be the first player in major-league history to play as many games exclusively in the infield as Gordon has before going on to play at least 100 games in a season in center field.

Sure there were converts such as Robin Yount and Craig Biggio and the Reds’ Billy Hamilton was a shortstop in the minors before switching to outfield.

But Gordon seems like he could be lining himself up to become the third player to ever win Gold Gloves at two different positions (Darin Erstad and Placido Polanco).

“That’s all good man, but I ain’t here for that,” Gordon said recently. “I’m just here for these guys. I’m not trying to be the man here or nothing. I just want to be a piece to some really good pieces on this team.”

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677