Of all the things the Dodgers are crossing their little fingers on, none may be as significant as the play of shortstop Dee Gordon.
They’re basically all in with him, because there is really no viable Plan B should he fail to deliver. Or, given his slight frame, go down to injury.
Last year as a rookie shortstop, Gordon played essentially a little over a third of a season (224 at-bats). His numbers, for the most part, were encouraging.
Enough so that the Dodgers proclaimed him their starting shortstop for the 2012 season. It’s great that the Dodgers are giving an exciting young player who doesn’t call the mound home an opportunity, but the commitment hardly comes without risk.
Gordon is expected to bat leadoff, understandable for someone with his electric speed and who stole 24 bases in 31 attempts last year. A full season equates to more than 60 stolen bases.
But Gordon, 23, struggled to get on base (.325 percentage), walks hardly his forte. He had just seven all last year. He’s young and inexperienced, of course, so that’s a part of his game he can still develop. In his four seasons in the minors, he had a combined on-base percentage of .355.
And then there is his build, which is reminiscent of the "before" drawings in old comic book ads for bodybuilding. You have to wonder if that frame can hold up through the rigors of a 162-game season, when he’s leading off and getting more at-bats than anyone on the team. He already went down last year with a shoulder injury he suffered during a routine rundown.
So what if he doesn’t deliver or falls victim to injury? What do the Dodgers do then? None of the choices are particularly attractive.
Justin Sellers was called up in August when Gordon went down and proved to be a hustling, versatile player. He’s a better defensive shortstop than Gordon, who is more skilled but still makes the occasional wild throw.
The trouble was, Sellers could not hit. Not after a nice initial start, anyway. In his last 20 games he batted .145 and looked overmatched. He finished with a .203 batting average.
Which is actually .001 behind the more likely alternative, Juan Uribe. The 2011 season's biggest disappointment was signed as a second baseman but mostly played third, where he is now ensconced as the starter. Uribe, however, mostly played shortstop for the Giants during their 2010 championship. He has a rocket arm, though covers little ground.
If you move Uribe to short, of course, somebody has to play third. And those alternatives ain’t attractive either. Adam Kennedy can play third, but he also hit .234 last season and is on the wrong side of 35.
Jerry Hairston Jr. can play either shortstop or third, though he appeared in only two games at short last season. He’s valuable, but probably not someone you can count on to play every day. In the past nine seasons, he’s had more than 430 at-bats just once.
Which means, Gordon best deliver. Because if he can’t, the patchwork won’t be pretty.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Photo: Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon slides safely home ahead of the tag by Angels catcher Hank Conger to complete a double steal in an interleague game at Angel Stadium last summer. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times / July 1, 2011