-- Coco Crisp’s needing surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow could open up a spot on the A’s opening day roster for Billy Burns, the outfielder with head-turning speed who also opened eyes with his numbers in the Cactus League.
Burns left Arizona batting .397 and tied for the major-league lead with 29 hits. The A’s will start the season without both Crisp and Josh Reddick (oblique), and Burns and Tyler Ladendorf are top candidates to fill those spots until they return.
Burns collected his 30th hit of the spring in the fourth inning of Thursday’s Bay Bridge Series game against the Giants, looping an RBI double off Jake Peavy inside the right-field line. Like many of his hits this spring, he recorded this one batting left-handed.
This is just the fourth season Burns has been a switch-hitter -- he picked it up after being drafted by the Washington Nationals -- and he has shown marked improvements with his left-handed swing (the side he’s had to learn). Burns said he started making adjustments at the end of last season in Triple-A, working with hitting coach Greg Sparks, and that he carried those over into spring with good results.
Specifically, Burns said he’s trying to be more aggressive hitting left-handed: In the past, he often tried to slap-hit from the left side and use his speed to beat out hits. He also tried using a bat with a bigger barrel and said that’s had an effect, too.
"There’s a lot more oomph behind the ball," Burns said. "Even on the mishits, jam jobs, sometimes (before) those would kind of trickle to the infielders and they’d be able to track them down. With this bigger barrel, they’re shooting through the holes a little bit easier this year."
Burns said the bigger bat idea had been suggested to him earlier by Mark Harris, the hitting coach in the Nationals’ organization who first introduced him to switch-hitting. But he always resisted until Sparks suggested the same tweak last year. "I was like, ‘I’d better try something,’" Burns said, "because I wasn’t doing too hot."
The 25-year-old, however, has been hot all spring. His fourth-inning double Thursday tied him for the most hits by an A’s player in a non-strike spring since those stats began being tracked in 1991 (Tony Phillips also had 30 in 1999). Burns also scored his 21st run of the spring later in the inning.
Before the game, manager Bob Melvin cited Burns foremost among options for the A’s while both Reddick and Crisp are down, saying Burns has had a "great spring; we’ll see how he does here in the last few days." Asked to elaborate on Burns’ improvement this spring, Melvin said:
"I think he’s a little stronger. Certainly left-handed, we’ve seen him pull some balls, hit some balls down in the corner, get some better swings instead of just slapping it the other way. You don’t have to play him as cheap. I think his all-around game, certainly defensively and the way he threw the ball this spring, he’s come a long way."
All the way to an opening day roster spot? Burns said that would be "awesome," but he isn’t taking anything for granted.
"I haven’t been told anything," he said. "And until I’m told something, I don’t really speculate. I’ll just wait until somebody tells me something, and kind of go from there."
* Left-hander Scott Kazmir allowed one run in six innings for his final spring tune-up and finished the spring with a 1.00 ERA. Even more encouraging was his summation afterward of how he feels going into the season:
"I feel good, feel good," Kazmir said. "All my pitches are working, arm feels great, body feels great. That’s all you can ask for."
Kazmir said his main goal Thursday night was to re-acclimate himself with the nighttime conditions in the Bay Area -- much different than the heat the A’s just left in Arizona. He said toward the end of his outing, "I really had a good routine of getting warm out there before innings."
It sounds like there’s not much more Kazmir could do to feel ready for the season. His next outing will be Wednesday night at the Coliseum.
* Closer Sean Doolittle is making progress in his recovery from a partially torn rotator cuff. Doolittle, who is back in the Bay Area with the team and was at AT&T Park on Thursday evening, played catch out to 75 feet and is starting to increase the distance and number of throws in his throwing sessions.
Doolittle said the schedule the A’s have tentatively mapped out has him throwing off of a mound before the end of April if everything goes well. He said it’s is a condensed version of his offseason throwing program, shortening six weeks into about four. "We’re pushing it a little bit," he said.
Doolittle didn’t name a target date for being back with the A’s, but the fact he is not on the 60-day DL indicates the A’s think he could rejoin them sometime in May.