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Spring a chance for Gordon to warm up for KC

Slow starter getting comfortable for regular season, prepping for move in lineup

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- This is good timing. There are just nine games left in Arizona. Opening Day is less than two weeks away. And Alex Gordon is almost in a liftoff mode.

"I'm just trying to pace myself for Opening Day," Gordon said. "You get a lot of reps in, and then you start trying to tone it down a little bit once the season starts approaching, just to make sure your body's nice and fresh and you're ready to go. That's the plan of attack right now, and so far, it's on schedule."

It seemed like the base hits were piling up for Gordon almost from the first Cactus League game. Not that he was satisfied; he grumbled that he was always a slow starter in Spring Training. OK, Gordon didn't really grumble -- just stated a plain, simple fact.

"I feel like it takes me a while to get comfortable and to get my timing down, and I'm always tweaking my swing a little bit," Gordon said. "Once it starts getting [deeper] into Spring Training, it starts feeling a little bit better, and that's how it feels right now."

Right now, Gordon is cruising along with a .306 (11-for-36) average, with six extra-base hits and eight RBIs. That's in Arizona, of course, where hard, fast infields and light air contribute to the offense.

"In Spring Training, sometimes the base hits are hard ground balls or choppers, so the average is always out of control," Gordon said. "You try to get results, but you try not to pay a whole lot of attention to it. You want to feel good, and your mindset makes you feel good at the plate. And once you've been around for a while, you know what that is."

And while home runs sometimes come cheap here, there was nothing chintzy about Gordon's wallop off the A's Dan Straily last Friday in Surprise. When last seen, the shot was headed for the moon, or at least the public library across Bullard Avenue.

"That ball was lit up, a bottle rocket," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

It also lit up Gordon's confidence in his Spring Training swing.

"It felt good -- that's the swing that you want. It was a slider, and it was short to the ball and it just was a good swing," Gordon said. "You take a lot out of it, and that's what you want to have is good results with the ball coming off the bat like that."

Since 2011, Gordon has established himself as a Kansas City favorite.

"He's just a solid, solid performer," Yost said. "You always love what you see from Alex Gordon."

Baseball has honored Gordon with three straight Gold Glove Awards for defensive excellence in left field. Last year, he made the American League All-Star team for the first time. The Royals have Gordon signed through 2015, with a player option for '16.

All this has come after early-career expectations as a first-round third baseman from the University of Nebraska faded. There was a blur of modest results complicated by hip surgery, a broken thumb, a demotion to Triple-A and a position change to the outfield.

Through it all, Gordon's legendary hard work pulled him along. Now 30, he's still at the training complex at the crack of dawn. While most of Arizona is snoozing or yawning, Gordon is in the weight room.

"I've got kids now, so I get up early anyway," Gordon said.

Gordon keeps himself constructed like a rock.

"He's an animal," pitcher Danny Duffy said. "I try to take after him as much as I can. He sets such a really good example for us young guys."

Gordon's place in the Royals' offense will be different this year. Mainly out of necessity, he's been Kansas City's leadoff batter. But with the acquisition of right fielder Norichika Aoki from Milwaukee, Gordon will drop down into the fifth spot in the order.

Omar Infante will bat second, followed by Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Gordon.

"Aoki kind of gives us a true leadoff hitter," Gordon said. "I had moments over the last two seasons where I did OK as a leadoff man, but I'm not a typical leadoff hitter. So I think it works best for our team to have me in the middle of the lineup and have someone like Aoki, who gets on base and doesn't strike out a lot, leading the team and getting us going, and having guys like Billy and Hosmer driving him in."

Gordon does strike out a lot, a team-high 141 times last year, with an on-base percentage of .327. Aoki, who fanned just 40 times, had an OBP of .356 for the Brewers.

Though Gordon was the leadoff hitter in 289 of his 468 games over the last three years, he still averaged 80 RBIs a season. The Royals figure that production will increase significantly if he's always in the middle of the lineup.

George Brett, a Hall of Fame link to the last Royals postseason team of 1985, got a good look at team attitude last year, when he served two months as interim hitting coach. As Brett put it, they expected to win every night. In baseball terms, that ranks far above either just hoping to win or just trying not to lose.

It's a passion.

"I've been here since 2007, and I never had that feeling before as we had last year where every time we went out on the field, we expected to win, we weren't hoping to win," Gordon said. "We felt like we could compete with anybody in the American League and the big leagues."

The Royals have gone 28 seasons since winning the 1985 World Series, and Kansas City is ready to dine at a postseason feast.

"The fans are hungry, but we're more hungry than they are," Gordon said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for

Kansas City Royals, Alex Gordon