Gordon prepares for first year as starter

GLENDALE, AZ — During his 21 years in the major leagues, pitcher Tom Gordon went by the nickname “Flash.”

It was natural for someone with the last name of Gordon to take his moniker from the comic book hero, Flash Gordon. Having a blazing fastball made it that much more appropriate. Now, though, it looks like Devaris Strange-Gordon—known to Dodgers’ fans as “Dee”–is the Gordon who should carry the “Flash” name.

The 23-year old shortstop was a revelation for the Dodgers when he was called up to replace injured Rafael Furcal last season.

Like any rookie, he had his bumps in the road, but overall he was a major factor in the team’s turnaround after a horrid first half.

He made his debut on June 6, 2011 as a pinch-runner for Juan Uribe against Philadelphia and scored the Dodgers only run in the top of the ninth following an Andre Ethier groundout. His first start came the following night at Citizens Bank Park, and he scored another run and collected his first three major league hits, all singles. Overall he joined Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw as bright spots for a team facing troubles on and off the field.

In 56 games, he hit .304 with 24 stolen bases and 11 RBI and 11 extra base hits—9 doubles and 2 triples. He was decent with the glove, but showed room for improvement with 10 errors in 218 total chances.

“You never know what a kid is going to do when he finally gets (to the big leagues), but we knew his speed gave him a chance to change games,” said manager Don Mattingly. “And he did that for us in the time he was here.

“In September he was one of the big factors in us turning things around.”

When he returned from what will likely be his last stint in the minors, Dee tore it up. Furcal had been  traded to eventual World Series champion St. Louis, and with no one in his way, he responded by hitting .372 with an on-base percentage of .398. He also had 21 of his 34 runs scored and 12 of his 24 stolen bases. Shockingly, he Dodgers finished at 82-79. And Gordon took charge of the shortstop position.

“He definitely showed last year that he’s a big league player,” Mattingly continued. “He showed so much to us in not only what he accomplished, but in the way he handled himself, the way he works and the way he takes instruction. His attitude was great.”

It has carried over into spring training.

Even though Mattingly is on the record saying that Gordon will start at short this season, the former high school basketball star isn’t taking anything for granted.

“This is a whole new year,” said Gordon, who will turn 24 on April 22. “There’s nothing perfect about my game whatsoever, so I have to work at it to get better. I have to go in and fight (for a job) and get myself better. I never feel like anything is mine, or handed to me. You never know what can happen if you get complacent.

“I’m never going to take that route. I’m always going to go out there and work hard and earn (my job).

“There are lots of ups and downs in this game, and you have to take it all for what it is and just keep going. Don’t get too high and don’t get too down. You have to be the same person everyday.”

Gordon said that’s the kind of attitude he’s seen from his teammates so far this spring; that it’s a different situation that he encountered when he arrived from Triple A.

“Everybody is working really hard,” he said. “Everybody’s ready to play.

“You’ve got a guy like Matt (Kemp) who had a great year last year and he’s out here working harder trying to get better and make the team better. He’s a great role model; someone who can show you how to be a professional. And he’s a great leader. I’m trying to learn as many things as I can from him.”

Gordon may be the most crucial player in the Dodgers’ everyday lineup other than NL MVP runner-up Kemp. As the leadoff hitter he has to get on base consistently, and then use his speed and and base-stealing ability to wear on the concentration of the opposing pitcher. On defense he needs to cut down on his error total. All of it adds up to Mattingly praising Gordon as a player and a person, but making sure he realizes there’s a long way to go in his development.

“The talent is there; we all saw that last year,” said the Dodgers’ second-year manager. “But he still needs to work on his overall game, especially defensively. He needs to learn his defensive (positioning) better. And as he does his game will develop. He just needs to keep working as hard as he does, and with that talent, it will all come together.”

In a Flash.