Can’t-miss kid Gordon finally connecting for Royals
Thursday, April 21, 2011
KANSAS CITY (AP) — Why it took so long for Kansas City’s can’t-miss kid to quit missing is anybody’s guess.
Also unknown is exactly what the lean, laconic Nebraskan did to cure his ailing swing during long and intense sessions last winter with batting coach Kevin Seitzer.
What is plain for everybody to see about Alex Gordon is the .351 average and 14-game hitting streak he took into Thursday night’s game against Cleveland. Finally, after enough problems and frustrations to last an entire career, Gordon may be starting to fulfill the vast promise everyone saw in the overall No. 2 selection from the famous draft of 2005.
“One thing to his credit is he’s never felt pressure from outside,” Seitzer said. “All the pressure was what he put on himself.”
Another open question is whether Gordon’s sizzle will ultimately fizzle. It is, after all, a long season. And if Gordon’s learned anything since starring at Nebraska as the college player of the year, it is that baseball at the highest level is as tough to predict as to play.
“It’s early,” he said, politely declining to speak in detail about his hot start.
Gordon has played this season so far about as well as anyone in the major leagues, both at the plate and in the field. In a 5-4 victory over the Indians on Tuesday night, he had a signature game, collecting two hits with a run scored and an RBI, stealing two bases and making two great plays in left field. He threw out a runner at the plate and, helping thwart a Cleveland rally, made a diving catch of Grady Sizemore’s sinking liner in the ninth.
“He had a phenomenal night. He did it all,” manager Ned Yost said, who has made Gordon his No. 3 hitter.
Gordon was supposed to be playing like this all along. But while others taken behind him in 2005 — guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun and Ryan Zimmerman — rocketed into stardom, Gordon struggled.
Finally, plagued by injury and hounded by ineffectiveness, he was told last year to move from third base to left field and returned to the minors.
It looked for all the world like Gordon was entering the final stages of a failed career, doomed to go down as one of those supposedly surefire prospects who flames out and is never heard from again. He hadn’t played in the outfield since his freshman year in high school.
And so with a mediocre career average of .244, Gordon turned himself over to Seitzer. The two had worked well together the previous year but a hip injury had ruined whatever progress had been made.
Early last December, the two went to work.
“I basically wanted him to forget his old swing, what it felt like,” Seitzer said. “And we started. We did a month of solid drills.”
Gordon was allowed to take only 10 regular swings every 45 minutes for four days a week.
“I didn’t let him start hitting normal until January,” said Seitzer. “All we did was drill work to loosen up his upper body and change his swing path to where he was more inside, on and through the ball instead of getting in and out, getting tight. That was the biggest thing.”
One rap on Gordon had been that he did not always take instruction easily.
“He said, ‘I’ll do anything you tell me,’” recalled Seitzer. “And he did. He goes, ‘When can I swing normal?’ I said, ‘I don’t want you to remember what normal is. It’s going to be awhile.’”
As Christmas approached, Seitzer sensed his pupil was getting restless.
“He goes, ‘Nope. I’m not. I’ll do them as long as you tell me to,’” the coach said. “He completely turned himself over. He didn’t ask questions. He didn’t want to know why. He understood we were changing things and he just did what I told him.”
Gordon said he did not change his swing completely and that most of the adjustments were mental.
“The only thing with my swing is I’m getting ready a lot earlier,” he said. “So I’m on time with everything, ready to hit. So if you’re throwing me a fastball, I’m ready to hit it. I’m never late or anything like that, never caught in between.”
Just as Colonel Sanders has his secret herbs and spices, Seitzer won’t detail the drills and exercises he put Gordon through.
“Explaining it wouldn’t make any sense. It would have to be a thing you’d see on video and I wouldn’t put it on video because that’s what we do,” he said. “That’s our secret sauce. It’s easy to talk about what a hitter needs to do and the mechanics. But the secret sauce is using drills in order to get that to come out.”