After Stephen Vogt drove in Billy Burns for the game-winning run in the A’s 3-2, 10-inning win over the Twins on Saturday night, Vogt had some high praise for the rookie center fielder.
“He’s the Rookie of the Year so far this year,” Vogt said. “He’s not getting the recognition that he should be nationally. (But) he’s been probably our most consistent player all year and is doing it as a rookie.”
It’s true that Burns hasn’t generated a ton of buzz on a national scale – though he hasn’t been entirely overlooked, either. ESPN and Sports Illustrated both recently released their picks for first-half MLB awards, and for American League Rookie of the Year, ESPN went with the Astros’ Carlos Correa while SI ranked Toronto’s Devon Travis as the leader. Burns was mentioned among other candidates by ESPN and ranked third by SI.
It’s also true, though, that Burns’ numbers rank up there with the best of A.L. rookies. Burns leads all major-league rookies in hits (85), stolen bases (19) and multiple-hit games (26). He ranks second among A.L. rookies in runs (39) and total bases (112) and ranks second in batting average (.304) among those with at least 50 games.
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Travis, the Blue Jays’ second baseman, is the batting average leader among A.L. rookies at .305, and has seven home runs and 33 RBIs despite missing part of the first half with a shoulder injury. Correa, a former No. 1 overall pick, was called up in June and has made a quick impression with eight homers, 22 RBIs and some sharp defense, but voters at the end of the year may have to decide if his smaller body of work should count against him.
Of course, there’s still more than two months’ worth of season still to play and time for other candidates – Houston pitcher Lance McCullers has a 2.52 ERA in 11 starts while Seattle reliever Carson Smith has a 1.93 ERA and seven saves in 39 games – to emerge.
Burns has been in a slump lately – 4-for-25 in his last six games. But he played a big role in the A’s win Saturday night, leading off the 10th inning with a double and then stealing third base ahead of Vogt’s game-winning single.
It was Burns’ 19th steal this season in 22 attempts – and a gutsy play, given there were no outs and he was already in scoring position with the middle of the A’s order coming up. This was Burns on what he was looking for in terms of a pitch to steal on:
“Just subtle movement from the pitcher, if I saw the movement and I thought I got a good jump. Sometimes I’ll shut it down first step in, but I just felt like my momentum was carrying me forward towards third, and I thought it was a pretty good jump. So I just carried through with it and was hoping for the best.”
Manager Bob Melvin said Burns had a green light to run if he felt like he got a good pitch. Melvin said Sunday that Burns has “shown that he knows when to steal and when to take a risk from time to time.” Another illustration came Friday night, when Burns stole second late in a game the A’s trailed by five runs. One might argue it was an unnecessary risk, but it did give the A’s a runner in scoring position and erased the possibility of a force-out at second.
Melvin said Burns has quickly earned the faith of the coaching staff when it comes to stealing bases.
“I think that’s important for younger players, to let them play the game and not feel like there’s too many restrictions on them,” Melvin said. “He’s the type of player you want to give some leeway to, because he brings a lot of excitement and a different dynamic than – certainly with Coco (Crisp) out – anybody we have on our team. You want him to feel comfortable playing his type of game.”
After Saturday night’s game, Burns said that feeling comfortable has been a big part of his success this season.
“Last year in September I got called up, I felt nervous, I felt jittery,” Burns said. “This year after a few games, I felt like I had the confidence to play at this level.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t get reminded he’s a relative newcomer, though.
“I definitely still feel and know that I’m a rookie because on the bus trips I’m carrying stuff for guys, serving drinks, whatever they need me to do,” Burns said. “I know I’m a rookie. But at the same time, on the field, I don’t feel nervous, and that doesn’t run through my mind when I’m out there.”
As for postseason accolades, Burns demurred when told of Vogt’s endorsement.
“It’s just an honor just to have friends on the team that think that of me,” Burns said. “I don’t even know what to say. That’s just a real honor. Vogt’s a great friend, and I’m just honored that he’d even think that of me or even mention that in a conversation.”
▪ The A’s will see a familiar face with the Twins starting left-hander Tommy Milone, who pitched for Oakland from 2012-14. Their lineup against Milone:
And the Twins’ lineup against A’s right-hander Jesse Chavez:
▪ Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, on the DL with a right shoulder strain, is scheduled to throw batting practice at High A Stockton on Monday. Right-hander Taylor Thompson, who has missed the season so far with a right shoulder strain, will throw an inning for Stockton on Tuesday.