Gordon cleared for Game 1 after right hip irritation
Confident speedster ready to make big impact on Dodgers' October
LOS ANGELES -- Dee Gordon is exactly where he thought he'd be.
Last October, Gordon was an afterthought. He made just two appearances, both as a pinch-runner -- he was caught stealing in one and the victim of a ground-ball double play in the other. One year later, however, Gordon, now the Dodgers' full-time second baseman and leadoff hitter, is poised to play a critical postseason role for the National League West champions.
"I envisioned me being here," Gordon said. "I don't think a lot of other people did. But with a little faith and some hard work, it worked out."
Despite missing the regular-season finale with right hip irritation, Gordon has been cleared for Friday's NL Division Series opener against the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium (3:30 p.m. PT on FS1). He was a full participant in the Dodgers' workout Tuesday and insists the ailment is behind him.
"I think people are making more out of it [than it is]," Gordon said. "It's just really close to the playoffs, and I need to be at the top of the lineup for us. It is what it is. You guys will see, I'll be out there Friday night."
Back in Spring Training, Gordon wasn't even assured of a job. But given an opportunity, the 26-year-old speedster ran with it -- literally. He stole 34 bases in the first two months of the season and went on to earn his first All-Star nod. Gordon finished the year atop the Majors in stolen bases (64), triples (12) and infield hits (62).
"Dee is the leadoff hitter of our team. When he goes, we go," outfielder Matt Kemp said. "We need him on base to cause havoc and keep those pitchers working. He's done a lot of big things for us, gotten a lot of big hits, he's played good defense. He's been all around a good baseball player this year."
Seven players held down the first spot in the Dodgers' order in 2013, Gordon among them but with the fewest starts (four). He's not only provided the Dodgers with a consistent bat at the top of the order -- he hit .289/.326/.378 in the regular season -- but has added an element of speed the club lacked last year.
With Gordon as an everyday player, the Dodgers went from 78 stolen bases in 2013, good for 17th in the Majors, to pacing the NL (second in MLB) with 138 this season.
"Last year, we had to think about bunting or hit-and-run if the leadoff guy got on," said Dodgers bench coach Tim Wallach, who likened Gordon's potential to that of former Dodger Brett Butler.
"When he's on base, he changed the temperament of what the pitcher is trying to do. He knows he has to be quicker, the catcher knows he might have to throw out somebody, and it all gets more fastballs to the hitters that follow."
"I felt like going into the winter, that was the one piece we needed," Gordon said. "A guy who can bring speed to the table every day. And that's what I'm going to go out there and help us do. I think I've been doing a good job of it."
Gordon's presence on the basepaths will be magnified on the October stage, particularly in what will likely be a low-scoring affair Friday with two of the game's top pitchers on the mound in Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright.
"He makes a huge difference for us," said Carl Crawford, a notable basestealer himself, who admitted Gordon has at least "a little step" on him nowadays. "He's the one that gets everything started. He sets the table for us, steals bases, makes things happen."
Even as Gordon has found he's on opponents' radar more often now, he's adjusted and says he's improved with time. Manager Don Mattingly noted Tuesday that where his leadoff hitter has matured most this season is in knowing when to stay put and not run.
But for Gordon, he believes the key to his emergence has just simply been playing consistently and seeing everyday at-bats.
"I was able to play and showcase my abilities," Gordon said. "That's all I told them: I always needed just at-bats and a little trust.
"I think I proved it to them."