ANAHEIM, Calif. — As he grabbed a new bat from his trunk full of them, and fresh looking pair of batters gloves in preparation for his daily session in the indoor batting cages, Dee Gordon looked at a few members of the media standing nearby and made an unexpected comment.
“Do y’all want a story?”
Well, yeah, that’s never a bad thing.
“Well, then walk with me,” he said.
Gordon walked through the back tunnel of Angels Stadium that connects the visitor’s clubhouse to the dugout and batting cages. He gripped the bat and talked about the Mariners, specifically the winless homestand, which led to a current six-game losing streak.
“I think we needed it,” he said quietly.
With the exit of several players from last year’s team, including Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano, who were massive presences in the clubhouse and lineup, Gordon has embraced an increased leadership role on the team and the new direction of the organization. Because of that, he felt the need to talk about the team, its play, where it’s going and where it needs to get to. Gordon understands perception outside of the clubhouse better than most players.
He saw the excitement surrounding the team’s unbelievable 13-2 start, carried by an offense that was scoring eight runs per game and hitting an avalanche of home runs. He also understood the discontent when the team’s offense got basically shut down at home. The reality check of that regression was needed. There was some flimsiness to the hot start.
“It’s not sustainable,” he said. “It’s not even the runs. When you are hitting well as a young player, your deficiencies are overlooked. We really weren’t playing that well. We were just out-banging people. I think this is reminder, at least for myself, that ‘OK, the big leagues are hard. So what is it that I don’t do well to make sure that I get better?’ Now everybody has to take that look. What is it that I’m not doing that well and not helping us win that game today? So now we can focus on the development.”
It’s why he tried to make sure he told his teammates after being swept by Houston and then by Cleveland that this is all part of a season and a process.
“I felt that vibe after the first loss,” he said. “I didn’t get mad. I didn’t get upset when we got swept by Houston. I told them, ‘we all right.’ I said it again last night, ‘We all right.’ I think we needed that. As a team leader, that’s what I feel.”
The homestand exposed a lot of “deficiencies” that were apparent before the season but brushed aside with the early success.
“We still have a really good record, but we have to focus on ironing out our deficiencies,” he said. “Most people who aren’t here every day or haven’t done it, think, ‘oh, we are the greatest thing ever.’ When the reality is, no, we needed to work.”
Gordon has pushed for group work beyond the typical pregame batting practice and individual fielding work. Starting back on the homestand, he made the suggestion to manager Scott Servais that the team take a full infield/outfield before every game. The team’s struggles on defense have been apparent. Seattle leads the league in fielding errors with 23, and an MLB-worst -29 defensive runs saved above average.
“Every day except for Jay (Bruce) and Edwin (Encarnacion) and they do it some,” Gordon said. “I’m there every day because it works. I just like trying to be as good as possible. And that’s what you are trying to teach the young guys. Everybody here has tools. We have a toolsy team. It’s what you do with these 10 inches here (pointing to his head).”
Gordon wouldn’t use the tough starting pitching Seattle faced on the homestand as an excuse. Of the six games, four were started by All-Star right-handed pitchers — Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole of the Astros and Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco of the Indians — the Mariners vaunted offense was stymied. They combined to pitch 25 2/3 innings, allowing a total of four earned runs on 14 hits with five walks and 42 strikeouts.
“We are going to face No. 1’s,” Gordon said. “We are going to face them all the time. But those No. 1’s showed us that ‘Oh, we may not be that good.’ They were executing. And that happens, but that shows you that sometimes when they execute, they just beat you. You have to get better.”
With his pregame cage session calling, Gordon offered up an anecdote from his father.
“My dad told me what Greg Maddux told him,” he said. “I don’t know if he was specifically talking to him, but this is what he said: ‘Flash, the day I don’t need to work to continually get better is the day I need to quit.’ That’s a big part of it. We’ve got to get better. We’ve all got to get better. And if we don’t, we’ll be the same old team. That’s why we did what we did in the offseason so we can try to focus on baseball. I didn’t know we would come out and hit all those home runs early, but now we can focus on baseball.”
Gordon is clearly invested in this current team. But when it was mentioned that if he continues to get better, he might not be on the team to see it through, he shrugged his shoulders. General manger Jerry Dipoto will certainly shop him around at the trade deadline, if not sooner, to teams in need of a second baseman.
“That’s not up to me,” he said. “That’s up to the big man. But what am I going to do is make sure I help set a foundation. That’s all I can do is make sure of the foundation. You are nothing without a foundation.”