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03/10/09 12:50 PM ET

Improved Bourn likely to bat second

Skipper Cooper sees marked progress from speedy outfielder

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When manager Cecil Cooper headed to Florida for Spring Training a month ago, he envisioned center fielder Michael Bourn hitting in the latter third of the batting order.

But after watching Bourn's marked improvement in two key areas throughout the spring season, Cooper is now thinking of moving Bourn up -- way up -- toward the top.

If the season started tomorrow, Kazuo Matsui would hit leadoff, with Bourn hitting second. Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Miguel Tejada would settle into the middle of the order, followed by Hunter Pence, Geoff Blum/Aaron Boone and the catcher, which at this point figures to be Humberto Quintero.

Bourn is bunting more and striking out less, and Cooper feels the 26-year-old outfielder could settle in nicely as the team's No. 2 hitter.

"He's trying to do the right things," Cooper said. "I think he's bunted every game and has been pretty successful at it. He's trying to put the bat on the ball, hit it on the ground."

Bourn is also showing he's ready to be more aggressive at the plate.

"Last year, I'd get in there and almost know I was going to take the first pitch, and thinking I could just battle back," he said. "But you face pitchers who have been here a while, the next thing you know, you see a nasty deuce, and you're down 0-2 and trying to battle back."

That didn't work so well. Bourn struck out 111 times in 467 at-bats last year and turned in a paltry .288 on-base percentage, numbers that are poor for any spot in the order, but completely unacceptable for a leadoff hitter.

The pressure isn't much lighter for a No. 2 hitter, but Bourn's rapid progression this spring suggests that he may be ready for the task. He works on bunting every day with hitting coach Sean Berry, who usually monitors around 100 bunts per session.

"That's part of our plan for Spring Training," Berry said. "We're trying to throw to him every day at a pretty decent velocity. It's not game-like, but it's as close as we can get it. There's no shortcuts. There's lots of practice. Hopefully all the work we're doing has been giving him lots of confidence, and it's been showing in the games."

For Bourn, it's all about repetition.

"It's just like playing ping-pong," he said. "You keep doing it, after a while, I think it gets better as time goes on. I just try improve, see the ball longer and let my athletic ability to take over."

So far, Bourn is impressing the right people, including Cooper, who noted Bourn's three strikeouts in 22 at-bats this spring.

"I've seen progress," Cooper said. "If it continues, [No. 2 is] where he'll be, more than likely."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.