Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon went 0-for-5 in Friday's series opener against the Angels, extending his slump to 0-for-17 over his last four games. Thus continues the learning process for the man batting leadoff for the team with the best record in the National League.
"We kind of all got fooled a little bit by the second half last year. When he came back up, he was really good. I assumed he was going to take off again," manager Don Mattingly said on Saturday. "He looked really solid in spring training. It's been more of a battle than we thought. I didn't expect him to hit .330 or steal 70-80 bags, but I thought he'd be more consistent.
"At that point, we made the commitment. We're cutting budget and cutting back, we were 10 games under .500 and seeing who could play and who can't," Mattingly said. "A year ago at this time, we were tying to build something here. Now with the same guys we're building with all of a sudden we're in first place."
Mattingly said it was clear in the offseason that the Dodgers had budgetary restrictions and they had to make some hard choices, which meant having to use players making nearly the minimum salary in some positions.
"We didn't have the money to go do what we felt like we needed to do, so you do the best you can possibly do," he said.
The Dodgers were in talks with catcher Rod Barajas to return to split time with A.J. Ellis, but Barajas wanted more than the Dodgers were willing to offer and he eventually signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ellis became the full-time starter, and at $490,000 has hit .291/.419/.440. Gordon, making $485,000, is hitting just .220/.269/.266, and is still very much a work in progress.
"When you get a kid like that, you have to be patient," Mattingly said. "Then you have to be always teaching, and you have to teach in a way to not give him so much to overload him."
Some of that teaching came Saturday, in the form of one-on-one bunting instruction with Maury Wills before batting practice in Anaheim. Despite Gordon's recent slump, Mattingly has seen improvement from his shortstop, especially on the bases.
"Since Dee has been back up top, he has been better. He's been more patient on the bases when he gets on. He's not trying to steal on the first pitch every time," Mattingly said.
With the 0-for-17 slump, Gordon is hitting just .213 with a .280 on-base percentage in 18 games since returning to the leadoff role on June 3, though he has stolen seven of nine bases during that span.
Mattingly has been extraordinarily patient with Gordon, and for now it looks like he will continue to have faith.
"The thing that I've talked many times about Dee that I love is that Dee continues to work and wants to get better, and he wants to be great," Mattingly said. "I think Dee in the end is going to be a great player, and the experience he is getting now just happens to be in a pennant race, and that's the way it is."
Game Time: 4:15 p.m.