Bourn off and running to satisfy hunger in 2014
Outfielder working on bunting, regaining speed threat atop lineup
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians were only guaranteed one postseason game last October. Michael Bourn felt he could push through his left hamstring injury and give everything he had for that American League Wild Card clash with Tampa Bay.
The injury was worse than initially reported, but Bourn knew -- for at least one game -- he could be there for the Indians. The center fielder wanted to help see things through for the Indians, who won 10 games in a row to end the season, earning the right to host the Rays at Progressive Field.
Bourn just needed to gut it out for one game. Had the Tribe's playoff run continued deep into October, he was not so sure he could stay on the field.
"I would've gave it whatever I had until I couldn't go any more," Bourn said on Friday. "We were in the playoffs at that time, so I was like, 'Man, I don't want to miss this moment.'"
Bourn shared that moment with the city of Cleveland, which had not experienced postseason baseball since 2007 and is still waiting for its first World Series championship since 1948. The Indians were bounced after that one game, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of Bourn and his teammates. They headed into the winter even hungrier for the game's ultimate prize.
For Bourn, he felt some responsibility for what took place. He signed a lucrative four-year contract. He is the leadoff man, a Gold Glove-winning center fielder and a leader in the clubhouse. Last season, his overall numbers were below his standards, he went 0-for-4 in the Wild Card loss to Tampa Bay and he literally limped into the offseason.
Bourn understands what is at stake this year, and how important he is to the cause.
"I know it starts with me," Bourn said of the offense. "That's just how it is. I've always been like that since I've been playing in the big leagues, since I've been playing baseball, period."
The first step in Bourn's comeback campaign came roughly two weeks after the season ended.
Bourn did not want to waste any time when it came to his left hamstring, which ruptured during a stolen-base attempt in the ninth inning of the Tribe's Wild Card-clinching win on Sept. 29 in Minnesota. Bourn flew to Dallas and saw Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed a distal hamstring debridement on the 31-year-old outfielder on Oct. 15.
By having the surgery so soon after the season, Bourn made it possible to be sprinting again by January and be completely ready for games once Spring Training arrived.
"I felt good coming into camp," Bourn said. "It was just about getting my legs back under me as far as playing every day. That's all that I'm worried about. Other than that, I feel healthy. I haven't had any setbacks so far and, hopefully, it stays that way."
The next step for Bourn is returning to his old form.
In the four seasons prior to 2013, Bourn posted a .280/.348/.378 slash line with an average of 42 extra-base hits, 54 stolen bases and 93 runs scored between tours with Houston and Atlanta. Last year, Bourn hit .263/.316/.360 with 33 extra-base hits, 23 stolen bases and 75 runs. He appeared in only 130 games because of a right index finger injury that cost him time between April and May.
Bourn's stolen-base success rate dropped to 66 percent last year after it stood at 81 percent in the previous seven seasons. His 16.4 percent swinging-strike rate was the highest of his career, and his overall strikeout percentage has risen in each of the past three years. In 2013, Bourn's walk rate dropped to 7.7 percent after an 8.8 percent rate in the previous seven years.
Mention the increase in strikeouts and the drop in walks and Bourn cracks a smile.
"I always strike out a lot, but I always get my hits," Bourn said. "I always want to work on dropping my strikeout rate and making my walk rate increase. That's always a good thing for a leadoff hitter, but for the most part in my past years, I've always had a pretty good on-base percentage.
"I'm able to score runs and things like that. It's nothing new to me, man. This is my eighth year. I don't have to go back and say, 'Do this and do that.' I am what I am. I'll continue to improve and work on things, but I just know I know how to play baseball."
Bourn's dramatic drop in stolen bases was surprising, but the center fielder cited an unfamiliarity with many of the American League's pitchers. He said he learns from experience and observation, so he anticipates an increase in that area this season.
Indians manager Terry Francona does not want Bourn to get too wrapped up in just stolen bases.
"I do think they will [increase]," Francona said. "He's worked so hard. I think his gait is really good. I don't see him favoring anything. But again, I don't want to get stuck on looking at a number, because if he's on base, and he's scoring runs and he's disrupting the game, that's what we're looking for."
One aspect of his game that Bourn is working on this spring is bunting for a hit.
"Shhh," said Bourn, while holding a finger to his lips.
Across the 2007-12 seasons, Bourn ranked fourth in the Major Leagues with 62 bunt hits, or an average of 10.3 per year. In his first season with the Indians, who handed him a four-year deal worth $48 million last spring, the center fielder had only four bunt hits, according to STATS Inc.
In Cleveland, I know we have big grass in the infield," Bourn said. "If I'm able to learn how to deaden that ball [I can take advantage of it.]. ... I just wanted to work on it in Spring Training games. I don't care if they know I'm doing it. Oh well. I still want to do it. If I can do it, and they know I'm doing it, then I know they can't stop it."
Bourn just wants to do everything he can to help the Indians play more than one playoff game this season.
"The taste of any little thing you like, you want it again," Bourn said. "You're human. It's natural. Yeah, we want some more of it. It's no secret."