His batting average back under .200 and his season-long slump deepening, left fielder Alex Gordon will sit for the next few days in an attempt to hit the reset button on a frustrating year, Royals manager Ned Yost said on Tuesday.
“[He’s] scuffling,” Yost said. “I’m going to give him more than a day. We’ll see. Kind of just reset a little bit.”
The benching of the former All-Star and Gold Glove winner came nine days after the club acquired outfielder Melky Cabrera from the Chicago White Sox before the non-waiver trade deadline. It came just one week after Yost stressed that Gordon’s premium defense in left field still offered value. The Royals, though, appeared to hit a breaking point as Gordon plunged into another deep rut as the calendar turned to August.
Gordon entered the day batting .197 with a .580 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) after a 2-for-20 stretch this month. Since July 23, he was just 6 for his last 46 with two extra-base hits.
The Royals are hopeful that some time off will allow Gordon to find his stroke while working in the batting cage with hitting coach Dale Sveum. On Tuesday, Yost inserted Melky Cabrera in left field as the Royals continued a four-game home-and-home series with the St. Louis Cardinals. Rookie outfielder Jorge Bonifacio returned to the lineup in right field.
“Boni is obviously playing well,” Gordon said. “So I’d probably do it if I was the manager, too. I just need to go figure it out and start playing better.”
Gordon declined to elaborate when asked what he might focus on during his pregame sessions with Sveum. Yet he has made no excuses for his struggles at the plate. Nearly 19 months after signing the richest contract in franchise history, a four-year, $72 million deal to stay in Kansas City, Gordon is suffering through the worst offensive season of his career. His OPS (.580) is nearly 200 points below his career average. His power has essentially disappeared. He has struggled against fastballs and off-speed stuff.
“It’s just been a battle for him,” Yost said.
The struggles at the plate come one season after he batted .220 with a .312 on-base percentage and 17 homers in an injury-plagued 2016. That kind of production, while significantly below Gordon’s career marks, would be a welcome sight in 2017.
The mystery of Gordon’s declining offense has confounded rival scouts and executives alike. His bat speed has remained mostly steady. His power shows up during batting practice, scout says. He is 33 years old now, an age when many players begin to slow down. Yet his work ethic is unrivaled inside the Royals clubhouse, teammates say.
His defense has also remained elite. He entered Tuesday leading all American League left fielders in Defensive Runs Saved. Among all outfielders in baseball, he trailed only Boston’s Mookie Betts in Ultimate Zone Rating, another advanced metric.
The defensive performance, in part, allowed the Royals to put up with his declining bat. On Tuesday, however, the Royals (57-54) sat just three games behind first-place Cleveland in the American League Central and tied with Tampa Bay for the final American League wild card spot. Bonifacio, a 24-year-old rookie, has batted .256 with a .327 on-base percentage and 14 homers in 85 games. The addition of Cabrera offered another alternative in the corner outfield spots.
“We need Gordy being productive,” Yost said. “The calendar doesn’t have anything to do with it right now. We need Gordy to be productive. Boni has done a nice job for us up here right now. We’ll just see if we can’t give Gordy a couple of days off and get him going. Simple as that.”
So for the moment, Gordon, the franchise cornerstone, will head to the bench with his team in a pennant race. The Royals are hopeful the days off will offer a reboot of sorts, a restart in a season of disappointing production. For now, Gordon is hopeful the answer will come soon.
“We’ll take some days off here and see if he can’t hit the reset a little bit, get in to do some work with Dale,” Yost said. “It gives you a chance to focus more intently in the batting cage and see if they can’t figure something out to help him get going.”