Healthy Bourn Could Make Major Impact in Stretch Run

Baseball fans in Houston and Atlanta know full well that Michael Bourn can be a difference-maker. They know about his blazing speed and havoc he can wreak for a pitcher on the base paths.

Fans in Cleveland, sadly, have yet to experience what Bourn is fully capable of. In the first season and three quarters of a guaranteed four-year deal (a fifth year kicks in on a vesting option) he signed with the Tribe in February, 2013, Bourn has not been able to completely show off his skill set as he has spend a good number of games on the disabled list. When he has played, it has not been at full health in some cases.

Last year, Bourn only missed 30 games, but battled through aches and pains much of the year. Despite that, he still managed six homers and 50 RBI, which were both the second highest totals of his career. His .263 batting average was disappointing, but only seven points below his career total, so not too far. What was a real downer was his 23 steals in 35 attempts. This is a guy who has twice swiped over 60 bags in a season and been over 40 five times. He was 30 last year, hardly an age that should signal he is past his prime.

This year has been even more problematic for the Cleveland center fielder and leadoff hitter. He has played in just 71 games, having missed half of April and then much of July and half of August with hamstring injuries. When he has played, he has contributed. He has three homers and 22 RBI. He also has eight stolen bases. His .266 batting average is not bad.

Bourn’s most recent stint on the disabled list was his longest. He was gone from July 6 until his return to the Tribe on August 16. The hope is that all of the time away will do some much-needed good for Bourn and getting him back to full-go.

If Bourn can get back to being the top-of-the-order, base-stealing threat he was with the Braves and Astros, it would be the equivalent to an August waiver-wire deal for an Indians squad that still finds itself alive for at least the American League’s second Wild Card spot.

Bourn can certainly bring a dynamic to the Tribe that the team has not really had this year and that is a threat to make something happen with speed.

Yes, the Indians have other guys who can run – namely, Jason Kipnis. However, no on on the Indians can snag an extra base like a fully healthy Bourn.

Kipnis has ledoff in Bourn’s stead. With 17 steals, the Indians second baseman is no doubt fast enough to be a viable top-of-the-order hitter. However, he seems to be most dangers hitting in the middle of the lineup. Kipnis has a powerful bat, despite slumping much of this season. Kipnis is much more dangerous with guys getting on ahead of him.

Bourn is the qunitassential leadoff batter. He is not a power hitter, but is someone who can get on base in multiple ways and then make do even more when he is on the base paths.

Once on base, Bourn has to be in a pitcher’s mind as someone who may take off at any moment. That distracts from focusing on the batter. Tribe fans should be very familiar with that as Kenny Lofton was known to disrupt a pitcher or two back during Cleveland’s 1990s run. Bourn, when healthy, is actually a very similar threat.

The fact that Bourn can turn a bloop or bunt single into a double with a steal is important as well. The Indians do not have a lot of power in their lineup. Getting a guy into scoring position to punch him home on a single is a big deal.

Aside from the bat, Bourn also brings a defensive presence to the Indians that has been missing much of the season. Bourn can get to balls in gaps that the average outfielder can not. He covers a lot of ground, meaning the other slower corner outfielders do not have to perform miracles to get to balls out of their range. Bourn can also turn a just barely over the fence home run into an out. He has home-run-robbing ability. In short, Bourn has Gold Glove potential that most of the Tribe’s fielders do not have.

Bourn was given a well-paying contract two February’s ago. It was with good reason. The guy can be a game-breaker and difference-maker. Indians fans have only seen the surface of what he can do. After his long layoff, it would seem Bourn may finally be close to full strength. If that is the case, he has a chance to put his full array of skills on display for the final 37 games of the year. He could well be the engine that powers the Tribe back to the postseason, or at least hang around contention into the final handful of games.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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