Royals

Since returning from injury, Alex Gordon is one of the Royals' best hitters. Here's why

Royals OF Alex Gordon explains changes to swing

Since returning from the disabled list, Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is one of the hottest hitters on the team. He discussed mechanical adjustments after he went 4 for 5 vs the Orioles in a 15-7 win on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.
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Since returning from the disabled list, Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is one of the hottest hitters on the team. He discussed mechanical adjustments after he went 4 for 5 vs the Orioles in a 15-7 win on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.

The time Royals outfielder Alex Gordon spends in the batting cage, the relentless training schedule he follows, the effort he expends fine-tuning his outfield craft — these are the things that have never escaped the notice of manager Ned Yost.

Yost has seen so much of Gordon’s extensive routine in their nearly eight years together that he doesn’t find it astonishing anymore.

It’s why in the 30 months since Gordon ended his 2015 campaign with a .271 batting average, a career-best .377 on-base percentage and a World Series championship ring that Yost never lost hope Gordon would hit a stride like he has in this age-34 season.

Since returning from the disabled list on April 24, Gordon is batting .382 (21 for 55) with three home runs and eight RBIs in 14 games. After Tuesday’s 15-7 win over the Orioles at Camden Yards, in which he matched a career high with four hits for the 12th time since his 2007 major-league debut, Gordon’s batting average stood at .321.

Gordon hasn’t hit this well to start a campaign since he batted .303 (20 for 66) over 19 games from April 6-30, 2015.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s just a little hot streak, like he’s gonna go cold again,” Yost said. “He’s swinging the bat really well.”

Gordon’s offensive struggles — he batted .214 the two seasons after the Royals won the 2015 World Series — have been well-documented. They’ve been scrutinized so heavily that many who follow the Royals questioned the club’s decision to commit four years and $72 million through the 2019 season, in addition to a mutual option for 2020.

The pandemonium in fan circles surrounding Gordon’s future reached a head in spring training.

In late March, during a Cactus League broadcast on Fox Sports Kansas City, Yost said Gordon would play in minor-league games for a day so he could bust out of a spring slump.

But Yost’s words were mangled on social media. Rumors swirled that Gordon, on the verge of beginning his 12th major-league season, faced a demotion.

The move was unfathomable. Players of Gordon’s stature don’t have minor-league options on their contracts — never mind that Gordon was about to enter the third year of the richest contract the Royals have ever given.

The social outburst proved one thing: Outside the organization, many seemed to lack confidence that Gordon could separate himself from two consecutive seasons of hitting at least 35 points below league average (he hit .208 last year, when the league average was .255 for the second season in a row).

But never anyone on his team.

“I think the amount of commitment that he has is what separates him,” said starting pitcher Danny Duffy, who has played alongside Gordon in Kansas City since 2011.

“There’ s nobody that I’ve ever come across in my whole life that works harder than he does. It’s not just that he works hard. I’ve seen it — he works smart, too. Everything he does has a purpose.”

The elements intrinsic to Gordon’s oft-heralded work ethic are just what have helped the veteran outfielder emerge from the worst two seasons of his career. With the help of hitting coach Terry Bradshaw, Gordon has worked on his timing and keeping his bat in the strike zone longer.

Though the sample size is small, MLB’s Statcast system shows that, among other things, Gordon has improved his pop-up percentage (down to 1.7 percent from 7.6 percent last season) and weighted on-base average (wOBA) against defensive shifts (from .278 to .383).

It’s similar to the approach he tried too late last season, when he went from batting .181 in August to hitting .250 with four homers in the final month.

“If you have bad mechanics, your approach is not going to work,” Gordon said. “It’s a combination of things. My approach is good. All spring, it’s just my mechanics weren’t that great.”

Now that he’s combined both aspects, Gordon is doing better at the plate than anyone else on the team. Only outfielder Jorge Soler has produced at a similar level — a .357 average (20 for 56) with four homers and 13 RBIs — in the same span.

“It’s good to see good things happening to (Gordon),” Duffy said.

The Kansas City Royals scored 10 runs and hit four home runs in the first inning of a 15-7 win on May 8, 2018 over the Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

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