ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Billy Burns is drawing a start in right field Sunday, his first time playing the position at any point in his professional career.
With Josh Reddick getting his first day off on this nine-game road trip, and Burns possessing a stronger throwing arm than left fielder Khris Davis or center fielder Coco Crisp, Burns was the choice to shift over to right. All 154 major league games that he’s played defensively have come in center, and according to baseball-reference.com, Burns never played right field in the minors either.
He spent time in batting practice Saturday and Sunday working with outfield coach Mike Aldrete and reading balls off the bat. A’s manager Bob Melvin said it wasn’t a move the A’s would make often, and Aldrete said he felt Burns would adjust fine as a temporary fill-in.
“We worked on some balls going down the line and in the corner, then he played some balls off the bat,” Aldrete said. “I would say from my experience and talking to other players, if you haven’t had a ton of experience at a particular outfield position, right field is probably easier to adjust to than left. … For the most part, in right field, it just seems like a more true ball off a right-hander’s bat. Our whole decision was, who do we put in right field from a throwing arm standpoint?”
Rays lefty Matt Moore, who starts for Tampa Bay on Sunday, has reverse splits – lefties are hitting 90 points higher off him than righties. That’s one reason that Yonder Alonso is in the lineup at first base Sunday and not Matt McBride, as Melvin had suggested could happen.
Catcher Josh Phegley is making progress with his sore right knee, but Melvin didn’t say when Phegley might be available. Phegley had a cortisone shot recently that helped reduce the pain.
Second baseman Jed Lowrie, on the 15-day disabled list with a shin contusion, has taken swings in the batting cage off a tee back in the Bay Area. He hasn’t started running yet.
After facing right-handed starters in 32 of the past 34 games, the A’s see a lefty in Moore on Sunday and then are scheduled to face three more lefties against the Texas Rangers starting Monday. That means Billy Butler, the designated hitter Sunday, could get four starts in a row, a rarity for Butler.