SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Alex Gordon was a forlorn figure, sitting alone on a hallway floor outside the clubhouse Sunday morning while his Royals teammates were in a meeting inside the doors. Gordon, the Royals' third baseman, must have felt out of the loop after learning he'd miss the next three to four weeks because of a broken right thumb. Royals spokesman Mike Swanson described the injury as a "minimally displaced fracture of the right thumb." Gordon said X-rays showed the tip was broken. No surgery is believed necessary.
Gordon was injured on a headfirst slide as he was thrown out attempting to steal second base in Saturday's third Cactus League game against the Texas Rangers. Although the injury came in the second inning, Gordon played five innings as scheduled. "When I hit the bag, I could feel it," Gordon said. "I've dislocated a finger before and I kind of knew. I thought something was up." Actually, a photo showed he jammed his right hand into second baseman Joaquin Arias' foot. Yet he remained in the game. "I didn't want to be hurt," he said, tearfully. "I didn't want them to know the truth, I guess." The truth is that Gordon could be out until about Opening Day on April 5, four weeks away. Because he cannot throw or bat while the thumb heals, the timing of his actual return to game action is uncertain. "I'll maybe have to take a couple more weeks to get the timing back and everything," he said. "Hopefully it'll still be there. It was 10 weeks last year so this is going to feel like a breeze, I guess." The injury puts Alberto Callaspo and Josh Fields prominently in the third-base picture. Callaspo was facing an uphill battle against newcomer Chris Getz for the second-base job. Fields, acquired with Getz from the Chicago White Sox, is an infielder-outfielder without a regular spot in the lineup. "Really, I've always liked Callaspo at third base," manager Trey Hillman said. "Josh Fields is a natural third baseman. It really ups the ante of those two guys getting the majority of the reps at third base and looking at Josh at first base as well." Callaspo is a switch-hitter who hit .300 last season but doesn't have Getz's range at second base. Fields, a right-handed batter, slugged 23 home runs as a White Sox rookie in 2007.
The injury came as a bitter blow to Gordon, who was rounding into great shape after being hampered by hip surgery last season."Just coming off the (hip) injury and now having this (stinks)," Gordon said. Last year, poised for what the Royals hoped would be a breakout season for their top Draft choice of 2005, he felt pain in his right hip on Opening Day at Chicago. It got worse as the days went by and he underwent surgery on April 17. Returning after the All-Star break, he bounced back slowly and eventually spent about three weeks with Triple-A Omaha. Gordon played only 49 games for the Royals and batted just .232 with six homers and 22 RBIs. But this spring the hip no longer was an issue for him. "He was moving very good," Hillman said. "The first thing that stuck out to me was running the bases in Game 1. He really moved well better than I saw him at any point last year, including Spring Training." What Gordon's injury emphasized for Hillman was the inadvisability of employing a headfirst slide. "It's unfortunate because it didn't have to happen," he said of the injury. Although some players believe a headfirst slide gets them to a base faster, Hillman declared it should never be used. "I've arguments on both sides of the pond on whether you do or whether you don't, but it's a well-documented fact that more injuries on the basepaths happen sliding headfirst than any other way," he said. For his part, Gordon said he'd eliminate the headfirst slide from his playbook. Although he cannot throw, Gordon plans to continue to take ground balls and do cardio work to stay in shape. "I just asked them what I can do to make it better and they said you can't rush time on a broken bone," he said. "I've just got to ice it and rest it. Anything I can do to stay in baseball shape and stay ready to go, I'm going to do." One of the Royals' prime objectives in the offseason was to add depth to the roster. In fact, on Saturday, Gordon was playing at first base to give Callaspo some time at third base. Fields, just getting over some stiffness, was the designated hitter. "We've got enough depth and versatility to cover. But you hate to see your players, especially Alex whose missed so much time, miss even more time," general manager Dayton Moore said. "But it's part of the game. You've got to adjust and move on." Hillman was optimistic that good circulation in Gordon's thumb would aid the healing process. "And there's never a question about Alex's toughness," he added. That assessment lightened Gordon's mood a bit. And he tried to strike an upbeat note. "I've got to stay positive," he said. "Luckily, it's just the tip and hopefully just three to four weeks. I'm going to do everything I can to get back and get ready."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.