ANAHEIM: The hitting has come. So has the ability to track deep fly balls in the alleys in the outfield.
Now, the last thing Michael Bourn needs to feel truly 100 percent back to baseball-playing shape is the ability to steal bases at will.
“The swing is just repetition over time,” said the Indians center fielder who recently joined the club after missing the first few weeks of the season with a hamstring injury that sidelined him late in spring training. “You have to find the timing of everything, the speed of the game here [at the major-league level after rehab games in the minors].
“You have to try to let it catch up to you because it’s kind of speeded up when you first get back and there’s nothing you can really do but keep at it. I had to tell myself to just slow down and let it come to me. Then the natural ability just takes over from there.”
Halfway through the Indians’ six-game West Coast road swing, it’s become obvious Bourn has his timing back after starting the season 1-for-13. He entered Monday’s series-opening game at Anaheim riding a seven-game hitting streak during which he’s batting .387 (12-for-31) with a .406 on-base percentage.
“You hope guys are going to go 4-for-4, but I don’t know how realistic that is,” Francona said. “They just need to see pitches and get in a groove. [Bourn] needs to get his legs under him and he’s starting to do that.”
The speedster has also found that extra gear defensively that makes him so dangerous, making two impressive running catches at San Francisco’s AT&T Park in which he tracked down balls to rob Giants hitters of hits and save sure runs.
Now, Bourn is focusing on the last piece of the puzzle — and it’s the one Indians fans have been waiting to see.
“That’s the hardest part — trying to get the timing of stealing again,” Bourn acknowledged. “I haven’t really practiced it, you know? That’s the thing I really wanted to work on at spring training — getting a bigger lead and getting better jumps. But then I got hurt. I didn’t have the time to practice it, so I have to do it on the fly now.”
In his first season with the Tribe last year after spending a bulk of his six-year big-league career in the National League, Bourn hit .263 with 21 doubles, six triples and six home runs. He scored 75 runs. But his stolen bases were down dramatically, from 42 in 2012 with Atlanta to 23 last year.
Bourn knows the biggest reason he was signed at least through the 2016 season in Cleveland is to add speed on the bases. So after a season of learning the league and settling in, he has his sights set on getting back to the player who since 2008, leads all major-leaguers with 280 stolen bases. It’s a distinction that comes in large part from Bourn leading the NL in steals over three consecutive seasons from 2009-11, and coming in second in 2012.
“I wasn’t able to practice [stealing bases] the last couple weeks, but that’s OK, I’ll make up for it,” Bourn said. “I’ll just do it on the fly and get comfortable with it again. I’m not exactly comfortable yet, because I haven’t had the repetition of getting out there. But I feel as good speed wise as I’ve ever felt. So I’m going to get back at it and get back to doing what I do.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.