Young Dodgers learning as they win

Posted: June 07, 2012

Dee Gordon and Jimmy Rollins leaned back against the visitors' dugout along the third-base line at Citizens Bank Park.

The starting shortstops Tuesday night in the Phillies game against the Los Angeles Dodgers began to chat.

Gordon, the speedy 150-pound, 24-year-old shortstop who looks a lot like Rollins when he runs the basepaths, talked with his counterpart about fielding their position, something that's been a problem for Gordon. They talked about the webbing in their gloves and how Rollins discovered his favorite glove in high school. They talked defensive shifts and how teams out of their divisions play differently. They talked families, and bunting for hits, and off-speed pitchers. They talked through autograph-seeking fans and well-wishing coaches.

Gordon provided the perfect foil to Rollins, the 33-year-old now on the down slope of what has been a fine career. At this point in their lives, they have little in common. Rollins is a father. Gordon's father, Tom, retired in 2009 after 21 years as a professional pitcher, including three with the Phillies (2006-2008). But the shortstops share a passion for baseball that people years apart can relate to.

"That's going to be very good for him," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Gordon. "It's always good for him to talk to those guys. It's kind of like taking a shortcut. It can speed up his growth curve and allow him to cut corners."

Even with the best record in baseball, the Dodgers need young and inexperienced players such as Gordon and 27-year-old rookie Elian Herrera, who is mentored by former Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu and current Phillies infielder Hector Luna, to learn on the fly, especially with all-everything Matt Kemp on the disabled list.

No words from Rollins or Luna or any other Phillie could have helped the Dodgers the way that Cliff Lee pitched the first seven innings Tuesday.

Gordon struck out twice in that time. Every Dodgers starter struck out at least once with the exception of No. 8 hitter Tony Gwynn Jr.

It's all part of the learning curve that Mattingly alluded to. A learning curve that was on full display over nine innings Tuesday night.

Twice, a failure to execute fundamentals hurt the Dodgers in the eighth inning after Gwynn's bad bunt allowed Lee to throw out Matt Treanor at third after a leadoff double. One batter later, Hunter Pence threw out Gwynn trying to go from first to third on a single to right.

Then the club that showed its inexperience for seven-plus innings grew up. Herrera, the utility player in his first season as a major-leaguer after nine years in the minors, banged Lee's final pitch of the evening off the left-field wall and drove in L.A.'s two runs - the only runs it needed after a strong performance on the mound by Chad Billingsley in the Dodgers' 2-1 win.

"You see a guy like that grow up with a big-time at-bat against Lee like that," Billingsley said. "That's just awesome."

Perhaps it's the conversations with veterans that have allowed this Dodgers team to keep the title of best in baseball even without Kemp. Perhaps it's just an early start by a young, ambitious bunch.

Or maybe this is just part of the shortcut Mattingly talked about. A shortcut that could lead to something special.

"I don't know what it is," Herrera said. "It's fun. I talk to other guys all the time like Bobby Abreu. It's good to be able to talk to people like that. They tell me to just play the game."


Contact Chad Graff at cgraff@phillynews.com or 215-854-4550. Follow @ChadGraff on Twitter.

 


 

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