Michael Bourn is doing exactly what the Braves hoped and certainly thought -- he would. He's hitting and darting and dashing and tracking down everything hit in Atlanta's 404 area code.
Bourn is the Braves' first true leadoff hitter in seven years and their best center fielder since Andruw Jones waved goodbye to Atlanta in 2007. And he's playing like it.
In large part because of Bourn's ability to reach first and his god-given gift of moving swiftly to second, third and then home, the Braves entered Saturday leading the National League in runs. When he started hitting, the Braves started scoring, and more important, winning.
Bourn has hit in 13 of the past 15 games, an ultra productive streak that has raised his average from .125 on April 11 to its current .326. He banged out two more singles in four at-bats on Saturday to make him 25 for his past 60, a .417 average over that stretch. He's reached base in 24 of past 43 plate appearances.
And with Bourn doing what he does best getting on base and scoring runs -- it's no coincidence the Braves have won 13 of their past 17 games.
"Ever since Mike Bourn has started hitting, setting the table, it's just been kind of a domino effect right on down the line," Chipper Jones said.
The Braves had been searching the ends of the earth for a center fielder and leadoff hitter for years. It seemed to be a quest with no end.
Any team speed left when former shortstop Rafael Furcal signed with the Dodgers more than seven years ago and Jones decided that stealing bases was no longer part of his skill set. He then followed Furcal in wearing the Dodger Blue, leaving the Braves slower than a dial-up modem and with a massive cavern in center field.
The next few years were a rotating door there, with a lackluster cast of players such as Mark Kotsay, Josh Anderson, Nate McLouth, Jordan Schafer, Rick Ankiel, Melky Cabrera and Gregor Blanco providing little to no stability or security. So when the Astros held their annual yard sale last summer, the Braves quickly dashed to grab Bourn for a truckload of prospects, including Schafer.
He did more than take over center, he immediately solved their plodding ways. No Brave had stolen more than 17 bases in a season since Furcal in 2005. It took Bourn only 53 games to steal 22.
"He's been doing that his whole career," catcher Brian McCann said. "That's why he's one of the best center fielders in the game. He's going to be there all year. That's what he does."
As expected from a guy who leads the majors with 222 steals since 2008, he's among the league leaders with seven this season, but his arrival has had an unexpected impact.
Jason Heyward has been watching and learning from MLB's premier base thief, gaining tips on how to take a lead and read pitchers in addition to timing their releases. Heyward stole his eighth base in eight attempts on Saturday, a swipe of third that wasn't close.
Even though Bourn didn't add any steals to his career total of 241 on Saturday, his speed was evident in center and at the plate. He ranged to the warning track to grab a fly ball in the first inning and then flew to his right to track down a liner in the third, saving runs on each occasion.
Bourn burned a patch to first to beat out an infield single and try to spark a rally in the fifth, but the Braves following him couldn't send him home.
He then singled to lead off the eighth, but his speed might have backfired. Bourn attempted to steal second, and his dash sent Pirates second baseman Neil Walker heading toward the bag. He found himself in perfect position to field Martin Prado's grounder up the middle. Walker scooped it up, stepped on second and fired to first to complete a double play and squash the Braves' scoring opportunity.
That play, a freak of bad timing and ill fortune for the Braves, won't keep them from unleashing their speedy weapon. They love this new dimension on the bases and the defense he provides on the green grass of center field.
" To see him run, you can never complain about that," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.