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Dee Gordon says he's OK with working for Dodgers starting job

The Dodgers are committed to Hanley Ramirez as their shortstop, so 24-year-old speedster Gordon probably will start season in triple A. Gordon says he has learned a lot from last year's struggles.

February 19, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez, Los Angeles Times
  • Dodgers infielder Dee Gordon reports for spring training at the team's Camelback Ranch facility.
Dodgers infielder Dee Gordon reports for spring training at the team's… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

PHOENIX — — The young ballplayer who was always in motion is in an unfamiliar position this spring.

Dee Gordon is stuck.

With the Dodgers committed to Hanley Ramirez as their starting shortstop and unable to secure a satisfactory exchange for Gordon on the trade market, the 24-year-old speedster appears almost certain to start the season in triple-A Albuquerque.

But if Gordon is frustrated by his predicament, he isn't showing it. And if he wants to play somewhere else, he isn't saying it.

"I like it like this," he said. "I like working for things. I was always taught that if you want something bad enough, you have to work for it."

However long the odds, Gordon said his goal is to be the Dodgers' starting shortstop. "I'd be home if I didn't want to be in the lineup," he said.

Gordon said he prefers this situation to what he experienced last year, when he was essentially made the starting shortstop by default because the Dodgers had no viable other option.

As one of the fastest players in baseball, he was considered the best prospect in the Dodgers' farm system at the time. Based on his stealing 24 bases in 56 games in 2011, there was talk in spring training about how he might challenge Maury Wills' franchise single-season stolen base record.

But for a player to steal bases, he has to reach base. And Gordon didn't with any consistency.

Even though he was the son of former major league pitcher Tom Gordon, he didn't start playing organized baseball until his senior year of high school, and his lack of experience showed.

"I think we put Dee in a tough spot last year," General Manager Ned Colletti said.

In the middle of May, Gordon's batting average dipped to as low as .200. His defense was shaky. "I never struggled before in this game," Gordon said. "I didn't know how to handle it. I didn't handle it too well. It was weird. You always feel like you can come out of it, but you never do."

His season turned from bad to worse in July, when he sustained a torn tendon in his thumb when he caught his hand under a base during a head-first slide.

Gordon underwent surgery, and while he was sidelined the Dodgers made the first of a couple of high-profile trades, acquiring Ramirez from the Miami Marlins.

Ramirez had been playing third base for the Marlins, but the Dodgers soon moved him back to his old position at shortstop.

Gordon returned to play in a handful of triple-A games and was then added to the Dodgers' roster in September. He didn't start any games and watched from the bench as the Dodgers slipped out of contention. He finished the season batting .228, but with 32 steals in 87 games.

Gordon said he didn't recover his confidence until the off-season, when he went to the Dominican Republic to play in its winter league. "I had to figure it out by myself," he said. "I had to grow up. I was in a foreign country by myself."

There too he struggled. He made several wild throwing errors, which he blamed on his late-season inactivity. He also contracted a stomach virus, and his weight fell along with his batting average.

But he returned home believing he learned something.

"It's a learning curve," he said. "All major league players went through it. If anyone else can get through it, why can't I?"

Back home in Florida in early December, he worked out almost daily with Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin for the rest of the winter.

Gordon's stature in the Dodgers' camp might be diminished, but he has no doubt he's a better shortstop than he was a year ago. "I'm learning how to be a major league shortstop," he said. "I may not be the major league shortstop right now, but I'm definitely learning. I'm going to become that."

But even if it happens this spring, it might not matter.

Ramirez has been working on his defense in early morning sessions with third base coach Tim Wallach. With observers offering glowing reports on Ramirez, Manager Don Mattingly said he is unlikely to ask Ramirez to move back to third base.

"The only one that's going to move Hanley is Hanley," Mattingly said.

Ramirez is under contract through the 2014 season, meaning there might not be a place for Gordon next year, either.

Still, Mattingly maintains Gordon will one day be a star.

"I'm not going to forget about Dee because Dee is dynamic and is going to be dynamic," Mattingly said. "Really, we probably had him here before he should have been here last year and he ended up paying the price. I see Dee as a guy with a world of talent who's going to be great."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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