For years, Alex Gordon lobbied the Royals’ coaching staff for an opportunity to play center field. In time, the pleading became an inside joke of sorts. Gordon revered Ken Griffey Jr., the iconic Mariners center fielder, as a child. He loved the idea of patrolling the outfield. In spring training, Royals manager Ned Yost said the club would allow Gordon, a franchise staple in left field, to “live out his fantasy.”
In truth, the decision offered a contingency plan should the Royals need another center fielder during the regular season. But across two days at Tropicana Field, Gordon held up his end of the bargain.
On Wednesday, he made a sensational catch at the wall after replacing Lorenzo Cain in the seventh inning. On Thursday, he made his first career start in center field and made a diving catch in the bottom of the sixth to take a hit away from Tampa Bay’s Tim Beckham.
“I think yesterday was my audition,” Gordon said. “And Ned said if I didn’t screw up, maybe I’d play the next day. I think that catch helped and he put me out there today.”
Cain was scheduled to receive a day off on Thursday, a respite from the turf of Tropicana Field. Yost opted for Gordon in center with Jorge Bonifacio starting in left and Jorge Soler in right. Cheslor Cuthbert, who played second on Wednesday, was in the lineup for a second straight day, starting at third.
“[Gordon is] a good option,” Yost said. “Boni played out there the last time we gave [Cain] a day off. We could actually play Whit out there, too. But we wanted to give Cuthbert some back-to-back at-bats in two days, and this turf is tough on legs and knees. We’ll give Moose a chance to DH. It worked out well.”
Gordon continues to struggle at the plate. After an 0-for-4 day on Thursday, he is now batting .158 after the Royals’ first 34 games. It is a problematic development for a team attempting to dig out of an early-season hole. Yet Gordon, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract before last season, continues to be an above-average defense.
“It was actually easier playing center here than it is in left for me, not dealing with the lights,” Gordon said of the setup at Tropicana Field. “It felt pretty good.”
With Paulo Orlando at Class AAA Omaha, the Royals do not have a natural backup in center field. Anticipating that possibility, Gordon took reps in center during spring training. In addition, Bonifacio made one start in center field when Cain received a day off on April 23 in Texas.
On Wednesday, Gordon, a four-time Gold Glove Award winner, moved from left to center in the seventh inning. Moments later, Tampa Bay’s Logan Morrison hit a deep drive to center field. Gordon got a good jump and tracked the ball down at the wall. As he stood inside the Royals’ dugout on Thursday morning, he said he knew the ball would find him in center field.
“The first batter,” Gordon recalled thinking. “I guarantee this guy is going to hit it to me.”