SEATTLE — Dee Gordon seemed to be involved in the Mariners’ most electric moments of the first half of the 2018 season, both on the field and in the dugout. The speedster has captivated fans with his energy and enthusiasm, and confounded opposing teams with his havoc-wreaking on the basepaths.
In flashes during the first half, Gordon looked like one of the best offseason acquisitions in baseball.
But ask him about his first half, and you’ll get a different answer.
“I sucked, to be honest,” he said, with a laugh as he looked down. “There were times I was just sitting there, just sucking, and I was like, ‘I stink.’”
Gordon expects a lot from himself, and that’s why he was at Safeco Field past midnight after one game — hitting off a tee, shagging baseballs through the sprinklers and then hitting more. That’s why when some spent the All-Star break resting and recharging, Gordon met with Ichiro to work on hitting.
Gordon batted .283 in the first half with 22 stolen bases, most in the American League and tied for fourth in the majors. When he had at least one hit, the Mariners were 41-23, compared to 10-13 when he went hitless.
“Dee was disappointed — he’s used to hitting .300,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “That’s a big thing for him. He’s not going to drive it out of the park, he’s not driving in 100 runs. But getting on base, he does it through the hits (he’s walked six times).
“He knows he’s good for a big second half for us and I think he’s off to a great start. He’s been hard on himself, but he’s done a lot for our team — and it’s more than just getting hits.”
Gordon is a career .293 hitter and batted .308 with 60 stolen bases with the Miami Marlins last season before heading to Seattle in an offseason trade.
So what gives?
Easy answer — an injured right big toe, which sent him to the 10-day disabled list on one occasion but has nagged him most of the year. Gordon has occasionally walked in a boot and wasn’t always able to put pressure on his front foot in the batter’s box.
His numbers dipped significantly after the initial fracture during a May 9 game in Toronto.
“I was still playing, though,” Gordon said. “So that’s not an excuse. It’s no excuse.
“For a month I was scared to bunt because I wasn’t sure if I was going to get out of the box fast enough to beat it out. It’s just part of it. I can’t really use that because guys play hurt all the time or change positions and things like that. It was just … weird (laughs). A weird first half.”
Switching from second base to center field and back again was part of that weird first half, after Seattle second baseman Robinson Cano was suspended 80 games for violating major league baseball’s joint drug and prevention program.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto again this weekend stressed the Mariners trust in Gordon at second base, even when Cano, the two-time Gold Glove winner, does return. He was asked if there’s potential for Gordon to return to the outfield mix by Cano’s return date on Aug. 14.
“Not really,” he said. “We look at Dee as our second baseman.
“There may be a time, especially in mid-August through the end of the season when he slides out to center field for a day, but primarily he’s going to play second base.”
That means Cano will spent the majority of his time in an everyday role (per Dipoto) when he returns in a mix with Ryon Healy at first base and occasionally Nelson Cruz at designated hitter.
“Right now, we think the best team we can put on the field includes putting Robbie in those different spots,” Dipoto said. “And maintaining Dee at second base.”
Gordon’s speed gives him range the 35-year-old Cano simply doesn’t have, like when Gordon dived across second base to snare Ian Kinsler’s line drive and save a run in the Mariners’ July 5 win over the Angels.
“The position change has gone about as seamlessly as it could have,” Servais said. “Very comfortable there and how he’s played has been awesome. It’s just a matter of getting more consistent offensively and I think the toe feeling a lot better will help that.”
Gordon said he’ll get his foot checked with another X-ray soon and he said he’s hoping to hear it has fully healed.
He has more range of motion with it now, he said, than before the break. After hitting .248 in June, Gordon’s hitting .333 in July. He went 4-for-4 in Friday’s win over the White Sox, had one of the Mariners’ two hits on Saturday, and then he hit a triple on Sunday.
“That’s the Dee Gordon we saw earlier in the year,” Servais said. “When his toe was healthy.”
Maybe the best sign was Friday when Gordon took off to steal second but Jean Segura sent a line drive to center field. Gordon was standing at second when he realized he needed to get back to first, so he darted back, slid back into the base but the ball got past first baseman Jose Abreu. So he sprinted safely back to second base.
“When Dee Gordon is on base, it’s electric,” Servais said. “It changes the whole course of the game and what the pitcher’s focus is totally changes.”
He’s the team energizer — the one starting a conga line of high fives along the Mariners’ dugout, leaping over the dugout wall in excitement or jumping into his teammates in the on-deck circle after scoring a run.
But now it’s about getting his bat to catch up with his other areas in which he impacts games for the stretch run.
“The big thing is that the guys who carried you in the first half usually don’t carry you in the second half,” Gordon said. “Everyone has to continue to just play hard.”