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Rookie in a rut

Gordon off to miserable start, but Royals stay patient

Posted: Wednesday May 2, 2007 11:49AM; Updated: Wednesday May 2, 2007 11:49AM
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Alex Gordon has struck out 31 times in 84 at-bats, prompting fans in K.C. to wonder if he will be sent back down to Class AAA.
Alex Gordon has struck out 31 times in 84 at-bats, prompting fans in K.C. to wonder if he will be sent back down to Class AAA.
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The fine people of Kansas City are used to looking hard for something good in their baseball team. The Royals have lost 100 or more games four times in the past five seasons. They've been better than .500 exactly three times since 1990. They haven't set foot in the postseason since '85. Finding something -- anything -- good in all that takes some practice.

Alex Gordon was supposed to make things a lot easier. He was supposed to step in as the next franchise player, right off the bat. Gordon was the best player in college in 2005, and the Royals' first-round draft pick (second overall) later that year. He arrived in training camp this spring as the can't-miss future of the new-look Royals.

Unfortunately for the star-starved fans in K.C., it's been more like can't-hit so far this season for the team's new third baseman. Welcome to the bigs, kid. Welcome to Kansas City.

"That's part of the process that you go through, that you expect to learn from," Dayton Moore, the team's still-new general manager, said of his prized rookie's early season struggles. "There's no reason to doubt that he's not going to get through this."

For Gordon, 23, "this" is a nightmarish start, an absolute worst-case scenario that has many in Kansas City questioning whether the rookie has any business being in the majors -- even in a place that needs him to succeed so badly. Gordon finished his first month in the majors batting a miserable .173, then dropped another five points off his average in Tuesday night's loss to the Angels. For a lot of teams, that stumble out of the gate would be only mildly disturbing. But the Royals clearly expect more from a player who hit .365 in his last year at Nebraska and .325 in his only season in the minors.

The batting average is only part of the problem, and it's not even the most alarming. Gordon also struck out 29 times in 24 April games. In his past three games, including Tuesday's loss to the Angels (which dropped the Royals to 8-19), he's whiffed six times.

Some in town are ready to send the kid down to Class AAA Omaha for his own good, before all the strikeouts and all the losing ruins a still-developing baseball psyche. Moore acknowledges that, at some point with some players, that might be necessary.

But Moore, trained in finding the good in players, doesn't think that's necessary with Gordon. At least not yet.

"The natural question is, 'Are you guys thinking about moving him down?' And the quick answer is no," said Moore, who was an assistant GM in Atlanta when the Royals drafted Gordon. "He's gotten pitched to very aggressively. And, unfortunately, we haven't been able to protect him very well. At 3-2, they'll throw him a breaking pitch, whereas if he's got someone hitting behind him, maybe you get a fastball there."

Manager Buddy Bell started Gordon out in the fifth spot in the batting order, then dropped him to sixth and, later still, into the No. 7 spot. He hasn't fared well in any of them. But no regular on the Royals, except for leadoff man David DeJesus, is having a particularly good start. The team is averaging just more than 3.8 runs a game, better only than the A's in the American League. The team's lack of lineup punch, coupled with an injury to Ryan Shealy, prompted the Royals to call up another promising young prospect, outfielder Billy Butler. He started Tuesday night and got a hit in his first big-league at-bat.

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