Gordon gives Dodgers speed at top of lineup

February 9, 2012

LOS ANGELES — Dee Gordon has sure hands and quick feet, but those skills were no help this week during a Dodgers community caravan trip to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. 

Gordon, who's expected to start this season as the Dodgers' leadoff hitter and everyday shortstop, had the simple task of putting cans of diced tomatoes into plastic bags moving down a conveyor belt. But the conveyor didn't slow down, and Gordon had trouble catching up. 

"I'm struggling, guys," Gordon called out to his Dodgers teammates at one point. "I need some help." 

Players laughed, and so did Gordon. By comparison, stopping a ground ball in the hole and throwing out a speedy runner must have seemed easy. 

His first season in the big leagues was anything but, although Gordon enjoyed a strong stretch run and became a fan favorite with his speed and ability to cause havoc on the bases. 

He hit .304 in 56 games and tied for the National League lead in stolen bases by a rookie with 24, enough to earn him the everyday job going into spring training. 

"It's a dream come true, but I know the work isn't done at all," Gordon said. "It motivates me to become a better player every day. That's the kind of person I am. I want to be the best." 

Manager Don Mattingly has been a big supporter, giving Gordon plenty of chances to start after he was initially called up from Triple-A Albuquerque in June. A shoulder injury put him on the disabled list, but he hit .372 in September and stole 12 bases. 

His final month also included multi-hit games in 14 of 26 games and an 11-game hitting streak, earning him NL rookie of the month honors. 

But he's taking nothing for granted. Gordon said he worked on his defense in the offseason, spending time with new Hall of Famer Barry Larkin in Florida and with former Dodgers infielder Juan Castro in Arizona. Castro retired last season and now works in the team's front office. 

"Defense, lots of defense," Gordon said. "I pride myself on my defense, and I want to be the best defender in my league. I feel like, if you're working out with those two guys, you've got a chance." 

Gordon, who made 10 errors in 218 total chances last season, could often make the spectacular play but sometimes missed on routine throws or ground balls. Despite playing in just 54 games, he ranked 13th in the NL in errors. 

As a hitter, he's more advanced. At 5-11 and 150 pounds, he's never going to hit for power, but Mattingly said last season he considers Gordon to be more advanced than a slap hitter. 

"I'm never going to hit 20 home runs," Gordon said. "I just want to be the guy that gets on base, scores runs and hits the ball hard every time. 

"I want to put the ball in the gaps. I know I live (hitting the ball) the other way; that's where 90 percent of pitchers pitch you, so that's fine with me. I'll take what I can get as a hitter. I just want to put the ball in play and get on." 

Assuming he can avoid injuries and play a full season, Gordon could give the Dodgers a stolen base threat like they haven't seen in several years. His total of 24 in 56 games projects to 63 in 150 games. The last Dodger to steal as many as 60 bases in one season was Juan Pierra, who had 64 in 2007. 

Asked if he had any goals for stolen bases, Gordon said, "We'll see. I don't know. I don't want to put a ceiling on it, you know what I'm saying? I want to steal as many as possible." 

OK, so how many is he capable of stealing? Gordon shrugged. 

"A hundred," said a food bank worker standing nearby. 

Gordon smiled. 

"Sounds good," he said.