SEATTLE — Dee Gordon beamed as he strode toward the podium inside Safeco Field’s interview room with Big Sean’s “Go Legend” pulsating over the speaker system.
Having been nicknamed “The Fountain of Energy” by new Seattle Mariners teammate Ryon Healy just moments earlier, Gordon exuded as much humor as energy as he elicited many chuckles and some outright laughter from the assembled media members Thursday as the Mariners organization held its 38th annual pre-spring training media luncheon at Safeco Field.
Gordon, who won the 2015 National League batting title with Miami, admittedly doesn’t walk much. So he asked then-Marlins teammate Ichiro, an erstwhile Mariner and fellow loather of walks, how to draw more bases on balls.
“He said, ‘Rake first,’” Gordon deadpanned as the media contingent laughed. “Simple. It sounded good to me.”
Thursday’s slate featured presentations and question-and-answer sessions with a number of Mariners dignitaries including director of high performance Lorena Martin, general manager Jerry DiPoto, manager Scott Servais, farm director Andy McKay, and the recently acquired Healy and Gordon.
Healy is slated to play strictly first base after splitting time at both corner infield spots with Oakland. Gordon, a former Gold Glove-winning second baseman, was acquired from the Marlins to play center field.
Oh, and then there’s that energy thing
“To be the energy, honestly it’s a tough job,” Gordon said. “Some days you don’t want to be the energy. Some days we don’t all have it. But guys are going to look at me for it and that’s my job. I’m not going to come here and wow you guys with a bunch of home runs. I’m going to do the things I have to do to help us win.”
Gordon knows his own abilities. The speedy leadoff man has just 11 career home runs in more than 3,000 plate appearances. But he did hit one of the most poignant long balls in recent baseball history when he led off Miami’s game Sept. 26, 2016, with a home run against Bartolo Colon.
It was Gordon’s only homer of the season and came in the Marlins’ first game after ace pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident. Gordon fought back tears as he rounded the bases.
“If I can be totally honest with you, I don’t remember much about it — it was such an emotional time,” Gordon said. “But I do know when I hit it I pretty much blacked out and I don’t know what happened. Honestly it’s a blessing to be the guy who did that for my friend and my teammate and brother. And for his family to remember that, and my family to remember that, is awesome. I’m just blessed to be the guy who did it.”
Gordon also said he has been working since December on the transition to center field. Servais mentioned Hall-of-Famer Robin Yount as a player that successfully transitioned from middle infield to outfield during his career.
“(Gordon) wants to show up the first day of spring training and look just like every other outfielder out there, and I give him a lot of credit for that,” Servais said. “His goal is to win a Gold Glove in center field. Will it be easy to do? No. There are a lot of good center fielders in the league. But he’s certainly got the athletic ability, he’s got the work ethic and he’s got a feel for the game.”
Healy fills another hole DiPoto identified as an offseason target as the former Oakland Athletic adds a strong glove at first base and another power bat to an already potent lineup.
“We’ve got power, we’ve got speed, we’ve got youth, we’ve got some veteran guys in the middle of it,” Servais said. “We’re going to score a lot of runs. Our strength for me is our lineup and our strength is what makes us dangerous. I don’t think we want to get away from that.”
The pitching staff remains a bigger question mark. The Mariners dealt with a rash of injuries on the mound last season, and aging ace Felix Hernandez’s window for postseason opportunity is rapidly closing.
Seattle signed reliever Juan Nicasio to solidify the bullpen. DiPoto believes last year’s midseason acquisitions of starters Mike Leake and Erasmo Ramirez, combined with a healthy season from Hernandez, will solve the rotation issues that plagued the team last season.
Those three pitchers combined for just 32 starts with Seattle last season.
“That’s what you’d expect out of each of them for a full season,” DiPoto said. “The sensible math is that if we can get something in the neighborhood of a full season out of each of those three, hopefully we answered our offseason rotation-building last summer.”
With the Buffalo Bills qualifying for this year’s NFL playoffs, the Mariners now have the longest active playoff drought among major North American sports franchises.
That’s something the entire organization hopes to change despite playing in a loaded division that includes the defending World Series champion Houston Astros.
“It’s definitely not in the back of our minds — it’s in the front of the minds of everyone,” Healy said. “It’s something that is not only a goal, but something we see in the near future, as in this season. I think everyone’s excited about the opportunity we have with the talent, the focus and not only the veteran leadership, but the young core that is already here with some big league experience.”
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