HOUSTON — Outfielder Jake Smolinski is drawing a rare start against a right-hander Thursday night, and it appears he could see more playing time at the expense of Billy Burns.
Burns is coming off a month of June in which he hit .184 in 21 games, the second lowest average in the entire American League among qualified players. Taking a wider scope, he’s hitting .178 over his past 29 games. Smolinksi, in 19 games in June, hit .400 with four home runs and 11 RBI. He was 6-for-12 on the last homestand.
The right-handed hitter primarily has started against left-handers, but manager Bob Melvin said Smolinski deserved a start Thursday against Astros righty Doug Fister.
“Jake’s playing well right now, so we’re gonna give him a game against a righty which we don’t normally do,” Melvin said before the game. “Billy’s struggling a little bit. He’s going to come out of it at some point, but when you have a guy that’s swinging the bat well and deserves to be in the lineup, even though it hasn’t typically been his time to play for us, you try to ride a hot hand.”
Melvin did not necessarily say Burns would see less time moving forward, but he did expand on the adjustments he thinks the speedy switch hitter is going through after last year’s very impressive rookie campaign.
“I think he is making adjustments, you see him taking more pitches now, trying to get deeper into counts,” Melvin said. “Whether or not he’s a little uncomfortable with that, it’s something he’s going to have to deal with. For a while there, they were throwing him balls off the plate where he was making early-count outs, so he has to make the adjustment. To this point right now, he’s having a little bit of a tough time doing it. But he’ll get through it.”
Last season, with Coco Crisp sidelined for prolonged periods with neck ailments and other injuries, Burns blossomed as the leadoff man, hitting .294, showing surprising pop with five homers and 42 RBI, and adding 26 stolen bases and 70 runs scored. He’s bounced around the lineup more this season, sometimes leading off and sometimes batting ninth. Overall he’s hitting .236 with 12 RBI and has yet to homer. He’s stolen 14 bases and scored 32 runs.
All remains status quo with starting pitcher Henderson Alvarez, who is still strengthening his problematic right shoulder and has yet to start throwing.