Versatile Gordon set to provide depth in CF

June 11th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- At this point, center fielders who have never previously played the position have become the norm for the Twins due to all of their injury issues. But the defensive substitution in the ninth inning of Wednesday's 9-6 loss to the Yankees took things to yet another level.

That's when the Twins asked utility infielder Nick Gordon to step into center for an inning in a move that manager Rocco Baldelli had alluded to in the previous days. It came to fruition when Trevor Larnach was substituted out with the outcome of the game long since decided.

"Knowing where we’re at outfield-wise, at some point, Nick’s probably going to find himself out there in a game," Baldelli said. "Instead of doing it to start a game, or instead of doing it when he just happens to be going into a tie ballgame or something like that, I think breaking him in, just getting his feet wet ... I wanted to make sure we were able to do that."

Gordon is the third center fielder the Twins have pressed into action this season without having manned the position as a Major Leaguer before, joining Rob Refsnyder and Kyle Garlick. In fact, Gordon and Garlick had never played center field during their professional careers.

Garlick said he'd played center field during college, as a senior at Cal Poly Pomona in 2015. But the last time Gordon had stepped foot in the outfield?

"Twelve years old," Gordon said. "Besides shagging BP and stuff like that. But 12 years old was the only time ever in my life I played the outfield."

That's where the Twins are at right now, with 22-year-old Gilberto Celestino struggling in his first taste of the big leagues -- well ahead of his intended development schedule -- and needing center-field depth. That should be Byron Buxton in the coming days, assuming everything goes well with his rehab assignment with Triple-A St. Paul, which continued with a start in center field on Thursday.

But with Garlick (sports hernia), Refsnyder (left hamstring strain) and Max Kepler (left hamstring strain) all sidelined, and Celestino needing to continue his development in the Minors, the Twins might be in a position where Gordon will have to fill the backup role for some time.

That could help Gordon get more playing time, especially if the Twins use Buxton in a more measured manner following his activation from the injured list. Gordon has only appeared in seven games this season -- all at second base before Wednesday -- despite starting his career 8-for-20 with a homer and three stolen bases.

"I had a couple of conversations, just knowing that I could do other things if needed," Gordon said. "I think they kind of had the same ideas, and things just kind of happened like that. I'm willing to do whatever I'm needed to do. I don't really say I have to play one position or try to work just at one position. Wherever it is that I need to be, I'll be there."

Jax looking to earn opportunity
How much does it cost for several 20-something young men to charter an airplane to Kansas City, anyway?

Griffin Jax didn't take it upon himself to ask.

Around 15 of his high school friends from the Denver area pooled their money to jet themselves to Kauffman Stadium ahead of Sunday's game following Jax's first career MLB callup with the hope that Jax would start that day -- but he didn't, and the 26-year-old right-hander had to wait until Tuesday to make his debut at Target Field.

"The walk from the door opening from the bullpen, that was probably the coolest thing I've ever seen," Jax said. "All the lights, you know, walking in and touching the grass for the first time. That was awesome. I got to the mound, I knew I was maybe not anxious or nervous, but I knew I had stuff going, because my mouth was so dry."

At that point, only four or five of Jax's friends were left. At least he knows who his real friends are now.

"Exactly. I'll hold it over their heads for a while," Jax said.

It wasn't the debut Jax had hoped for -- with Gary Sánchez and Miguel Andújar both crushing homers off him -- but his second appearance on Wednesday was much more effective, as he held the Yankees to one run and three hits over 3 1/3 innings of relief, pitching on consecutive days for the first time as a professional.

Jax has now made two relief appearances to begin his MLB career as the first Air Force Academy graduate to pitch in the Majors after not having pitched out of the bullpen since he played at the Rookie-ball level in 2016. But following the unique twists and turns his career has taken to get him to this point, he's more than happy with this, too.

"Honestly, I'll take any sort of opportunity that I can," Jax said. "I know I've got to earn any sort of opportunity that they can give me. So whatever they throw at me, I'll be ready to go."