Dee Strange-Gordon hopes to impress Nationals with ‘lost art’ of base running

Dee Strange-Gordon hopes to impress Nationals with 'lost art' of base running

And Strange-Gordon, a 33-year-old utilitarian who was two consecutive stars in his twenties, has plenty of green marks. He actually has the most of anyone in camp, a lead he carved out in the Nationals 10-8 exhibition loss to the Houston Astros on Thursday. Hustle double in the first? Green mark. Score from second place on Juan Soto’s simple dribble? Another green mark. On Friday morning, first base coach and seeding guard Eric Young Jr. can just pick up a small bucket of green paint and splatter it next to Strange-Gordon’s name.

“That’s who he is,” Nationals director Dave Martinez said. “Everyone is watching Dee and it will increase what they want to do…within reason. Dee Gordon is a very good base runner and he is very fast. But it will push them to be better and better and better and better.

Strange-Gordon has five hits in 12 at-bats this spring, building his case to make the Washington bench. Since he’s on a minor league contract, the Nationals would have to free up space on the 40-man roster if they wanted to carry him. Against the Astros, he hit the first shot and played in left field. Between drills and exhibitions, he bounced between left, center, shortstop and second, where he made 693 of his 913 career starts. Martinez’s desire for versatile bench players could work in his favor.

With Nelson Cruz as the designated hitter, the Nationals are expected to have a backup receiver (Riley Adams), backup outfielder (Ehire Adrianza), fourth outfielder (Andrew Stevenson or Yadiel Hernandez) and another reserve. That could mean having both Stevenson, who is out of minor league options, and Hernandez, who is tough on defense but has a solid left-handed bat. Or it could mean giving someone like Strange-Gordon a chance.

His last at-bats were with the Seattle Mariners in 2020. Last season he was employed by the Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates – all four-fifths of the National League Central – but never cracked a major league roster.

It’s been six seasons since he led the sport in stolen bases (58) and batting average (.333) with the Miami Marlins. Last season, the Nationals had a player (Trea Turner, who was traded in July) with double-digit steals. Across the league, only six players – Turner, Starling Marte, Whit Merrifield, Cedric Mullins, Myles Straw and Tommy Edman – finished with 30 or more. But Strange-Gordon thinks speed, contact and experience can still contribute to wins.

“I was wreaking havoc on bases when base theft was being phased out by many teams,” Strange-Gordon said in his locker. “It’s kind of a lost art now.”

Could that make his skills more valuable?

“You hope, don’t you?” Strange-Gordon joked. “But no! It made me less useful because the teams don’t emphasize what I can do.

Does he think this is short-sighted?

“I’m not trying to stir up trouble now,” Strange-Gordon replied. “I’m not going to stir it. I just need to be the best version of myself. What about that? »

With that, Strange-Gordon patted his chest several times. He smiles at the ground. Because he was released by the Pirates on August 1, 2021, he was able to negotiate with teams during the lockout this winter. And because he has a juvenile contract, he arrived in West Palm Beach for juvenile camp in February, lining up for ground balls next to players nearly half his age.

One afternoon, he went from chatting in his corner of veterans to sitting next to a pair of rookies, leaning back in his chair. On Thursday, hours before soiling his jersey with a head-first slide, he dribbled a basketball across the clubhouse before asking if it was allowed. But most of her routine is to check the schedule by the door, swearing never to be late. This also brings him to the green-flecked billboard.

Basic running nuances that earn players a green mark: double scramble, single on the ground, advance on a sacrifice, advance on a “dirtball” or wild pitch, score from first, score from second, go from first to third, stealing a base, advancing on an error and interrupting a double play.

Basic running shades that earn players a red mark: getting caught, getting into a double play, getting caught stealing, running along the first baseline, taking a short main lead, touching the base with your left foot while running, misses the chance to take 90 feet, misses a sign, fails to touch first on a flyout.

Martinez’s biggest pet peeve is when players miss a sign or are slow to get out of the box on a single, missing the chance for a “double hustle”. In addition to his double on Thursday, Strange-Gordon got green marks for two hits, scoring from second, moving from first to third and advancing on an error. He promises that his speed didn’t go anywhere. His head also seems to be in a good position.

“I can still run, I can still play defense, I can still kick the ball all over the pitch,” Strange-Gordon said. “They want me to be myself, so that’s what I show. Anything to participate.