Gordon displays power, versatility in win

September 24th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- Nick Gordon was a corner outfielder on Thursday night -- so he swung the bat like one.

Three-hit games are nothing new for the rookie whose hit tool carried him through the Minor Leagues. But the three-run blast off the facing of the right-field upper deck in the fifth inning was certainly more of an eye-opening occasion as Gordon continued his torrid September with a trio of hits and a career-high four RBIs in the Twins’ 7-2 win at Target Field against the playoff-hopeful Blue Jays.

“Honestly, I just want to keep going,” Gordon said on Bally Sports North. “I want to keep working. I don’t feel great, but I don’t feel bad. You know, I feel like you’ve got to just keep working every day. Every day is a grind and the results will be there for themselves.”

Though Minnesota pitchers allowed 11 hits, including at least one in every inning but the ninth, they worked around the traffic while Gordon and the newly-healthy Mitch Garver each tallied three hits, with Garver improving to 6-for-10 in two games since returning from a tight back.

Gordon had already collected a first-inning single before he stepped to the plate with two outs and a pair on as the first man to face Toronto reliever Julian Merryweather in the fifth. He laid off an early changeup, fouled off a two-strike pitch, got the changeup again and crushed it a projected 394 feet over the right-field fence, opening up a four-run lead with his second homer in three days.

“That home run today, it’s a difference-maker,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It changes the dynamic of everything going on out there on the field, how we approach the game going forward from that point on. It was obviously a big, big moment. He’s had a lot of good at-bats, though.”

The 25-year-old cracked another grounder up the middle with two outs in the seventh to drive home an insurance run, helping to push the Blue Jays to one game back of the second American League Wild Card spot. With more consistent playing time in September, Gordon has contributed a .362/.412/.638 slash line (1.050 OPS) in 16 games this month in a continued push for an important role on the Twins’ 2022 roster.

Making that performance all the more valuable to his team, all four of Gordon’s RBIs came with two outs -- and that’s a trend that’s been evident in the rookie’s plate appearances throughout the season, with 15 of his 21 RBIs this season coming with two outs.

“He's not a tentative player,” Baldelli said. “From the first day he showed up here, has played good, aggressive baseball. ... Two-out hits, those types of at-bats in those situations are the difference between winning and losing ballgames often. Today, we had a guy that stepped in those spots and was a big reason why we won.”

Here’s something else that will help his case: Gordon played right field for the first time in his career following Max Kepler’s early exit due to illness (non-COVID), continuing to expand his defensive versatility to develop into the super-utility player the Twins could need moving forward. He has appeared at second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field and right field this season, only the seventh player in club history to appear at all of those positions in a season and the first since Danny Santana in 2016.

Not bad for a guy who had never made an appearance as a professional in the outfield before this season.

“I learned a lot this year, just playing a lot of positions, a lot of different positions that I never played before,” Gordon said. “It just kind of showed me that, if you believe and you work hard, you can do it.”

Earlier in the season, Gordon was pushed to center field in part because the Twins were scraping the absolute nadir of their outfield depth due to injuries. Now, center, left and right are all part of the growing skillset that could be the foundation of a big league career that might have seemed doubtful when he languished in the high Minors for years due to gastritis and COVID-19.

It’ll help if he keeps swinging this kind of bat, too.

“He gives us the confidence to do things like that,” Baldelli said. “He's also not scared in any way. You tell him what you need from him. He goes out there and just does it.”