The best left fielder in baseball heard the call from center fielder Jarrod Dyson and hit the brakes. A groundball was skidding in between them in the second inning of a 6-4 Royals defeat, and pretty soon, Alex Gordon was skidding across the grass, too.
“I slipped,” Gordon said afterward with a sheepish smile. “And just tried to get out of the way as best I could.”
He clambered to his feet in time to avoid any sort of serious collision with Dyson. The pratfall was the lone moment of intrigue in Gordon’s first Cactus League game since undergoing wrist surgery over the winter. He played five innings in the field against the White Sox and did not see one flyball hit in his direction. He took three at-bats and came away with no hits.
In their first encounter, former Royals spring-training invitee Brad Penny struck out Gordon. Gordon flicked a liner to first baseman Adam LaRoche his next time up. In his last at-bat, Gordon threaded a grounder deep into the left side of the infield, but shortstop Gordon Beckham showed enough range to throw him out.
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Manager Ned Yost declined to place any extra emphasis on Gordon’s debut. Yost has been steadfast in his belief Gordon will be ready for the season opener against these White Sox.
“I thought it went fine,” Yost said. “He got through it. He hit the ball hard the second at-bat. He just got back into the swing of playing.”
Gordon also found evidence of progress. He appreciated a return to the dugout, an environment he had been barred from all spring. He saw a bevy of pitches at the plate, readying himself for opening day. And he continues to rebuild strength in his wrist. No longer do whiffs cause him to wince.
“All the swings felt good,” Gordon said. “No pain, really. I think early on, when I first started getting back into action, on a lot of swing and misses, there was discomfort. But today I swung and missed a couple times. No pain. So that was good.”
Gordon has spent the last week witnessing live pitching. He played in minor-league games on Tuesday and Friday. He expects to serve as the designated hitter in Sunday’s World Series rematch with San Francisco. In his minor-league games, he had also yet to see any significant work in the outfield.
“I was like ‘You’ve got to put me in left field, so I can get some fly-ball action,’” Gordon said. “But, you know, we’ve still got a lot of games.”
Gordon departed the game after his sixth-inning groundout. His outing lasted 98 minutes. It was enough to invigorate him for the days ahead.
For Gordon, the route back to the diamond has gone slower than he would have liked. But the destination is in sight.
“A lot of it is mental,” Gordon said. “So if I’m thinking I’m not going to be ready for opening day, I’m not going to be ready. I feel good. I feel comfortable. I feel like I’m on track. As long as I feel like that, that’s really what matters.”