In his first Southern League assignment last year, Nick Gordon had -- statistically -- the best season of his professional career. One month into his second tour of the Double-A circuit, things have only gotten better.
Fourth-ranked Minnesota prospect clubbed his third homer of the year and doubled twice Wednesday night to power Chattanooga to a 4-2 win over Jackson at AT&T Field. He also contributed two RBIs and scored a pair of runs in his 13th multi-hit game of the season while boosting his batting average to .339.
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It was Gordon's first game this season with multiple extra-base hits and the second of his five-year career in which he had three go for extra bases. The last came on April 10, 2016 with Class A Advanced Fort Myers when he collected three doubles against Bradenton.
"I would say, the last couple days, I pretty much been hitting the ball hard every day. That's been the goal," Gordon said. "I've been feeling pretty good in the box. It's not really about hits for me, but more about quality at-bats."
MLB.com's No. 79 overall prospect seemed to prove he was ready to continue his level-per-year pace after 122 games with the Lookouts last season. He batted .270 and set career highs with a .749 OPS and nine homers, adding eight triples, 29 doubles, 66 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. Gordon followed with a strong performance in the Grapefruit League, going 10-for-24 (.417) with three extra-base hits and four runs scored in 15 spring games.
"For me, it's wherever I can put a uniform on, wherever I'm needed to play, that's where I want to be, and at the end of the day, I don't take the game for granted," he said. "I play with a chip on my shoulder and, regardless of where I am, I'm just going out to get things done.
"We definitely got to develop and learn, and for me, every single day, I take advantage of it. Whether or not, I'm 0-for-4 or I'm 3-for-4, I want to get something out of the day."
Perhaps Gordon's most noticeable improvement in his second year in Chattanooga has been an uptick in production against left-handed pitching. He batted .174 against southpaws last season and improved to a .306 mark in 36 at-bats this year. He pointed out that at the center of his struggles were late at-bats against left-handed specialists.
"Last year ... I would see a lot of lefties late in ballgames because that's what they're there for," the 22-year-old said. "That was definitely an adjustment I had to make over the offseason. Just staying in there and ... not bailing out and not giving away at-bats against lefties. Definitely tough lefties late in the game."
Gordon showed his improvement in that area with second double Wednesday night, which came against left-handed reliever Yuhei Nakaushiro with two outs in the sixth to drive in a run.
The fifth overall pick in 2014 also significantly has reduced his strikeout rate from 2017. While he fanned in 23.2 percent of his plate appearances last year, he has lowered that to 13.4 percent in 31 games this year.
With two outs in the opening inning, Gordon jumped on a first-pitch fastball from D-backs No. 4 prospect Taylor Widener, sending it over the fence in right field for a solo shot. He remembered the rising action Widener had on his fastball in their lone previous meeting on April 23, a game in which the right-hander allowed just two hits -- including a single by Gordon -- in five innings.
"His fastball kind of had some spring to it, it would kind of rise," the Florida native said. "I definitely went up there looking for a fastball and I actually wasn't trying to go deep or anything. I was just trying to put a good swing on it and I caught it, I guess, at the right angle."
Gordon reached on a forceout in the third inning before stealing his fourth base of the season to get into scoring position. He got another chance against the Jackson starter with one out in the fifth and ripped a double to right, scoring on a base hit by Alex Perez.
Widener (0-2) yielded three runs on seven hits, including two homers, and two walks with six strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings. The 23-year-old, acquired from the Yankees in the three-team trade involving Steven Souza Jr. in February, has a 3.77 ERA and 48 punchouts over 31 innings this season.