Back on August 8, it was widely reported Royals manager Ned Yost had “benched” left fielder Alex Gordon. I know, because the next day I wrote about it and used the word “benched” to describe Gordon’s situation.
Turns out, I was wrong.
After Gordon was supposedly “benched” on August 8, he appeared in that night’s game and had one plate appearance. He also appeared in the next night’s game as a pinch hitter. And by August 10, Gordon was back in the starting lineup.
In fact, since Gordon was “benched” he’s appeared in every game the Royals have played and started most of them.
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Since Gordon seemed to be getting an awful lot of playing time for a guy who’d been benched, on Sunday morning I asked Ned whether describing Gordon as “benched” was inaccurate.
Ned said it was; Gordon was never benched.
Asked to describe what being benched meant, Ned said you sit on the bench and you don’t play for an extended length of time and Yost said that was never his plan for Gordon.
Here are a couple of Yost quotes from stories about Gordon not playing:
“He’s scuffling, I’m going to give him more than a day.”
“We’ll just see if we can’t give Gordy a couple of days off and get him going.”
“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.”
As you might have noticed, the word “benched” does not appear in those quotes.
This might seem like quibbling about semantics, but in a big-league clubhouse, being “benched” has a much more negative connotation than “being given days off.”
And fans seem to get the difference: if Gordon was benched fans wanted to know why he continued to play. Here’s why.
What good does a couple days off do?
When a hitter stands at the plate the last thing he wants to think about is his stance, hand position or swing path.
A hitter’s focus should be on the ball and his swing should happen naturally and without thought. And for a swing to happen naturally, a hitter needs to develop muscle memory and that takes repetition.
It’s hard to make a mechanical adjustment at 3 p.m. and have muscle memory in place by 7:15.
Ned gave Alex a couple days off so he could work on his swing without worrying about starting a game.
Most players have one routine when they’re in the starting lineup and another when they aren’t. And for a starting player, a “day off” just means he won’t be in the starting lineup; he knows he might be needed later in the game, but he doesn’t have to be ready to go at 7:15.
Those days off allowed Gordon to take more swings than usual; Ned estimated that Gordon took 600 swings his first day off. That sounds impossible — pick up a bat, take just 50 hacks and you’ll see why — but since we’re talking about Alex Gordon, 600 swings is plausible.
It’s too soon to say whether those days off helped, but as Ned pointed out, on August 16 against the Oakland A’s, Gordon got a couple hits that helped win a ballgame. On the other hand, since those days off, Gordon has hit .219.
Gordon is trying to get his swing back to what he was doing in 2011, his breakout year, and Ned gave Gordon some days off to help that happen.
Nothing is written in stone
One of the things that drives big-league managers crazy — and it’s a long list — is our demand for certainty.
We want to know who has made the team out of spring training, which pitchers are going to be in the starting rotation and what reliever is going to be the eighth-inning setup man. Fans want to know these answers.
But managers tend to see things as much more uncertain and fluid; conditions change and the decisions managers make change with them.
On Sunday, the Royals beat the Cleveland Indians 7-4 and Jorge Bonifacio started in right field, had three hits and scored two runs. Gordon sat until the eighth inning. Cheslor Cuthbert played third base, Mike Moustakas was the DH and Brandon Moss did not play at all.
On Tuesday the Royals play the Rockies and Colorado’s scheduled starting pitcher is right-handed Jon Gray.
No one should be overly surprised if Gordon and Moss are back in the starting lineup and no one should be overly surprised if Ned Yost decides to stick with the lineup that put up 15 hits on Sunday.
In baseball, when something’s working you don’t change it.