KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Alex Gordon rarely hangs around the Royals clubhouse before games, preferring to spend his time in the weight room, trainer’s room or the batting cages deep within Kauffman Stadium.
That comes in handy these days, when the outfielder armed with the richest contract in franchise history wants to avoid questions about getting benched in the thick of a pennant race.
One of the cornerstones of the Royals’ recent success, Gordon has been mired in a slump that dates to last season, shortly after he signed a $72 million, four-year contract. He is hitting just .197 with five homers and 34 RBI in 101 games, creating a hole in the lineup that not even his Gold Glove-caliber defense has been able to assuage.
“You always try to give them as much rope as you can, just hope he’s going to get it going,” said manager Ned Yost, who finally decided to bench Gordon for Tuesday night’s game at St. Louis.
Yost wouldn’t say how long Gordon will sit out, but it could be a while.
“It’s just been a struggle for him,” the fiercely loyal Yost said. “We’ll take some days off here and see if he can hit the reset a little bit.”
Gordon makes no excuses for his poor performance, including the .220 batting average that he toted around last season. In a brief stop at his locker Tuesday, his response to his benching was simple: “I just need to figure it out and start playing better.”
He took the first steps during a prolonged session in the batting cages Tuesday night, working with hitting coach Dale Sveum on some adjustments. Gordon refused to discuss what they were trying to accomplish, but the swing that once made him a three-time All-Star is clearly flawed.
He’s rolling over pitches too often, forcing defenses into dramatic shifts that have further caused him trouble. His power has evaporated as his uneasiness at the plate has swelled.
“I’m not going to go into the details,” Gordon said of his work with Sveum, “I’m just going to go in there and get it done.”
The small-market Royals can ill-afford to have $18 million wrapped up in a benchwarmer, this year or the next two seasons. After Tuesday’s game, they were four games back of the Indians in the AL Central and in a three-way tie with the Mariners and Rays for the final wild-card spot, and are facing a monumental rebuilding process once this season is complete.
General manager Dayton Moore acquired veteran Melky Cabrera before the trade deadline to solidify right field, but that move has become even more important with Gordon’s ongoing struggles. It was Cabrera who took his place in left field Tuesday night while Jorge Bonifacio continued to play right field.
“I look at the production part of it. It’s just been a struggle for him,” Yost said. “We need Gordy being productive. The calendar doesn’t have anything to do with it right now. We need Gordy.”
Yost acknowledged there is a tradeoff to putting Gordon the bench. Even while his bat has slumbered, the four-time Gold Glover winner remains one of the best defensive outfielders in the game.
Yet the Royals are desperate for the kind of production Gordon once offered, the .303 average and 20 home runs that he belted in 2011, or the solid years he had in 2014 and ’15, when he helped Kansas City make back-to-back World Series and earn its first title since 1985.
“It’s a tradeoff, any time you take a Gold Glove left-fielder out of starting. Of course the defense isn’t going to be great,” Yost said. “But we feel we can cover with Melky and Bonifacio.”
At least, long enough for Gordon to sort out his problems.
“Hopefully they can figure something out,” Yost said.
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