Bourjos is a flash -- with the leather, between bases -- when he gets the chance
Playing a backup role is not what Peter Bourjos had in mind when he was traded to the Cardinals, but he's making the best of it. In fact, the speedy center fielder has been looking quite good in that role of late.
Peter Bourjos hit a two-run home run off Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw on Sunday night.
Jeff Curry / USA TODAY Sports
By Stan McNealFOX Sports Midwest
ST. LOUIS -- Watching Peter Bourjos put his wheels in high gear is as entertaining as any aspect of watching the Cardinals this season.
We've seen flashes, such as the sliding catch in Sunday night's game that prompted Mike Matheny to say, "There's not many center fielders in the league who make that play." There were two stolen bases that followed an eighth-inning single later that game. Earlier this month, there was a triple against the Pirates in which Bourjos seemed to pull into third base around the time the ball was being chased down in the outfield. Later that night, he sprinted to the center-field wall to make a leaping game-ending catch. Several times this season, an opposing infielder has rushed -- and botched -- a play because he knew Bourjos was flying down the line.
So yes, it's easy to see why the Cardinals traded for the 27-year-old center fielder last offseason with the idea he would give them Gold Glove defense and a base-stealing threat they haven't had in years.
They haven't seen as much of his game-changing speed as expected, though, and chances are they won't the rest of the season. His slow start and Jon Jay's resolve have turned Bourjos into a part-time player. While there's always a chance he could get another shot at everyday duty, most of his playing time these days comes in double switches and occasional starts against left-handers.
This is hardly ideal for a player still trying to define what kind of big-league career he will have. As Bourjos admits, "It's always a tough situation when you're not in there every day."
He knows because this is not his first time in such a spot. Bourjos hit .271 with 12 homers in 2011, but the next season a slow start cost him his starting job and he ended up playing backup to Mike Trout and Vernon Wells, his plate appearances dropping to 195 from 552. He finished 2012 with a .220 batting average and just three stolen bases.
"It's helped me out going through that, trying to stay positive and continue to work," Bourjos said after his big game Sunday night.
Even if he doesn't win a Gold Glove or come close to his stated goal of 40 stolen bases, Bourjos can make a positive impact on the Cardinals' second half if he continues to play like he has the past few weeks. He has gone 8 for 16 with a walk this month and while that's not much of a sample size, it includes coming through four times in the difficult task of pinch-hitting.
Bourjos believes this is more than a hot streak, too. After Sunday night's two-hit performance -- which included a game-changing, two-run homer off Clayton Kershaw -- Bourjos said his swing "is in a good place."
"I feel like it's the best it's ever been," he added.
It sounds like he has been making good use of his down time. Bourjos said something started to click in late June when the instructions of batting coach John Mabry and assistant batting coach David Bell took hold.
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"Mabes and D.B. have helped me out a lot trying to get the bat in the slot where I can go right to the ball and know where the barrel is at all times," said Bourjos, whose average is up to a season-best .230 (hey, it was .204 coming into July). "Slowly, I'm feeling really good up there. I don't feel like I'm jumping. I know where the barrel's at and I'm squaring some balls up."
Accepting a backup role can't be easy for a player who owns what veteran teammate Mark Ellis calls "monster ballplayer" talent. But Bourjos has accepted a difficult situation with a professionalism to be admired. He no longer checks the lineup daily to see if his name is in it because he knows it usually won't be.
"Mike does a good job and lets the guys on the bench know when we're in there," he said. "That helps out so you have a heads-up coming to the field knowing you're going to be in the game as opposed to not knowing and checking the board every day."
And anything that helps Bourjos have a chance to show off his speed makes the Cardinals more fun to watch.