Bourn fans himself out of leadoff spot
Cooper hopes eight-hole will shake off speedster's slump
ARLINGTON -- Michael Bourn arrived in the visitors clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Friday afternoon and saw something he hadn't seen before.
The lineup card tacked to the bulletin board had Bourn's name on it as usual, but not in the familiar leadoff spot, or even second. For the first time since he came to Houston, the Astros center fielder was batting eighth.
"I can't complain," Bourn said. "It's not [a surprise], because I'm struggling. If I'm hitting good, I'm hitting first, but I'm not. I've got to get going, got to keep fighting through this."
Bourn entered Friday night's game batting .181 for the season, the lowest average among the starters with the exception of rookie catcher J.R. Towles (.151).
Manager Cecil Cooper is hoping that dropping Bourn to eighth in this series, with a designated hitter in play and thus no pitcher batting ninth, will help Bourn get in a groove.
"Take the heat off a little bit," Cooper said when asked why he chose this series to move Bourn out of the leadoff spot. "The last three days have been kind of tough on Michael. With Hunter [Pence] starting to come on swinging the bat well, you don't lose a whole lot as far as the speed is concerned [with Pence batting first]."
The Astros want Bourn, who leads the Major Leagues with 17 stolen bases, to put the ball in play and utilize his impressive speed more effectively. Bourn has struck out a team-high 37 times in 144 at-bats, an unacceptable total for a leadoff man according to Cooper.
"If he starts to get going, we can slide him right back to where he's supposed to be," Cooper said. "The problem is making contact. He's just a young player trying to make adjustments playing every day. The ability is there, we know it's there. Young players are like roller coasters, they keep going round and round, up and down. [But 37] strikeouts, one in four [at-bats], for a leadoff hitter that's a no-no. He needs to make a little more contact and that's what we're concerned about. He needs to put the ball in play a little more."
Bourn believes he might be swinging too hard, and cited an at-bat in San Francisco when he swung so hard one hand came off the bat.
"I thought, 'That's too hard, that's not me,'" he said.
Bourn has been working with hitting coach Sean Berry on adjustments. Cooper would like to see Bourn mimic Juan Pierre of the Dodgers in terms of making contact and using his speed.
Bourn watched Pierre during last week's three-game series at Dodger Stadium.
"He was looking at him and watching, but you've still go to translate that to the game and it's not that easy to do," Cooper said.
There's been less pressure on Bourn since the offense has been averaging 5.9 runs per game during the last 23 games, but Bourn would like to join the party.
"It helps that everybody else is going good," he said. "I want to get going myself. I just have to keep swinging, keep trucking along."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.