Lopes Trying To Create A Bourn Stealer

By Marcus Hayes
Updated: March 9, 2007

CLEARWATER, Fla.— Davey Lopes caught the hitch out of the corner of his eye.

As the Phillies’ new first-base coach, Lopes has to watch the pitcher when there is a runner on first base, as Michael Bourn was Monday against the Reds. As the Phillies’ new baserunning guru, Lopes has to critique the team’s thieves.

Sure enough, when Bourn broke, eager to log his first steal of the spring, his first step was more toward the mound than toward second base. He also rose up quickly, coming nearly erect after his first step, which caused a slight imbalance.

Lopes didn’t even need to turn his head to catch the flaw in his peripheral vision.

Bourn stole the base easily anyway, but was ready for Lopes when he got back to the dugout.

“How’d you feel?” Lopes asked.

“I was fighting myself,” Bourn replied.

And that was that.

The Phillies stole three bases Monday, two with two outs. All three runners scored, whereas they probably would not have scored otherwise. Ditto Tuesday against Pittsburgh, when Jayson Werth stole second as Karim Garcia struck out for the second out of the second inning and scored on a flare by Brent Abernathy to centerfield. Then Rod Barajas struck out.

In Bourn, the team’s top outfield prospect, the Phillies should see the most effect of Lopes’ base-stealing instruction quickest. Jimmy Rollins can be helped, sure, and Greg Golson and Chris Roberson are enrolled in Lopes’ school, but Bourn, with 163 bases stolen in 397 minor league games, mainly on pure speed, probably has the most to gain.

“It’s going to take time,” Lopes said. “His first move gets his body out of whack. He’s not smooth, like a track sprinter, coming out of the blocks. A lot of races are won coming out of the blocks. He’s just got so much speed, he can compensate, make up for it.”

That speed, Bourn knows, will get him to the majors quicker than anything else. He won the Paul Owens Award last year as the organization’s top minor league position player, splitting his season between Double A and Triple A, but the Phillies acquired veterans Werth and Garcia to fill out their outfield spots.

Bourn, at 5-11 and 180 pounds, is a .285 hitter with just 16 home runs and 48 doubles in four minor league seasons.

“Speed’s his ticket to the big leagues,” Lopes said. “I told him, ‘You’ve got to go out and open people’s eyes.’ “

Bourn and Lopes won’t assign a numeric goal for Bourn to reach this season, assuming he lands at Triple A Ottawa, but Lopes figures the 45 steals in 50 attempts from 2006 should be “easy” to repeat. Forty-five might be low if Bourn is as quick a learner as he appears to be.

Later in the same game Monday, with lefthander Mike Stanton on the mound – Mike Stanton of the killer pickoff move – Bourn was on again. Lopes stared at Stanton as Bourn recalled the tip bench coach Jimy Williams gave him about Stanton.

Lopes stared at Stanton, Bourn in the periphery, itching to execute another, better takeoff.

“If it’s not smooth, it will startle my eye,” Lopes said. “If it’s smooth, it doesn’t attract my attention.”

This time, Lopes didn’t see a thing.