Astros outfielder Jason Bourgeois continues to electrify the top of the lineup with his productive bat and blazing speed while wreaking havoc on the base paths and playing stellar defense.
The 29-year-old Bourgeois, who earned the final roster spot in the outfield coming out of Spring Training, made his sixth consecutive start Friday evening in the opener of a three-game weekend series against the Pittsburgh Pirates when manager Brad Mills penciled him into the leadoff spot over Michael Bourn.
With the left-hander Paul Maholm getting the starting nod for the Pirates, in addition to needing his blazing speed in the large outfield of PNC Park, it provided Mills with the flexibility to start Bourgeois in left field and to give Brett Wallace a day-off versus the southpaw by working slugger Carlos Lee back into the lineup at first base after a three-game layoff due to bruised ribs.
Bourgeois entered Friday hitting .526 (10-for-19) over the previous five games, with five RBI, three doubles, six stolen bases and three runs scored, including his first career walk-off hit last Saturday night in Houston’s 2-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
It didn’t take long for Bourgeois to make his presence known in Pittsburgh, as the speedy outfielder led off with a single en route to stealing second and scoring on Hunter Pence’s sacrifice fly to give the Astros an early 1-0 lead off against Maholm.
Bourgeois struck again with a single in the second, giving him 12 hits over his last 21 at-bats, before finally recording an out.
He ultimately finished 3-for-5 in Houston’s 3-2 win.
Despite being a reserve outfielder, Bourgeois is currently tied with New York Mets three-time All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes for second in the majors behind Bourn with 12 stolen bases, thus validating his tremendous impact on the starting lineup over the last week.
“I feel pretty good,” Bourgeois said. “I just want to take it one day at a time, come in and do my job. If I’m not playing that day, that’s fine. I’ll just prepare as if I am. I’m grateful for the opportunity to play. I want to take advantage of it as much as I can.”
If Bourgeois remains hot, Mills will do everything possible to keep his productive bat in the lineup, considering the Houston native and Forest Brook High School product can field all three outfield positions, as well as fill in for veteran Bill Hall at second base.
Mills appears to have struck gold with his faith in Bourgeois, who could have easily started the season at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
“Hard work pays off,” Bourgeois said. “I’ve never stopped believing since day one. I’m fortunate to be in my hometown at the big league level and getting the opportunity to play. As long as we get that victory, I’m happy just like everyone else in the clubhouse.”
Without a doubt, the Astros feature one of the better reserve core of positions players in the National League, thanks in part to Bourgeois, Angel Sanchez and Humberto Quintero headlining the group.
Although Jason Michaels has gotten off to a slow start, he’ll likely make a positive impact as a right-handed hitting option off the bench upon being activated from the 15-day disabled list (subluxation of left shoulder) at some point next week, especially since 49 percent of his hits were for extra bases last season.
When veteran infielder Jeff Keppinger, who led the Astros with 34 doubles last season, returns from the 15-day disabled list sometime in May, imagine the makeup of Bourgeois, Sanchez, Keppinger, Michaels and Quintero coming off the bench as pinch-hitters or spot starters.
In the National League, a talented, productive bench serves as a dangerous weapon against any opposing team in all aspects of a game, whether it’s in the late innings or over the course of a series — more so than in the American League due to the DH factor.
The Astros aren’t lighting up the NL Central with a 13-19 record, but they have the foundation for potential offensive success.
Now, it’s a matter of bringing everything together — offense, defense, starting pitching and bullpen — as the season moves forward.
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