Burke trying to stay patient in approach

Burke trying to stay patient in approach

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Chris Burke was never one to make excuses, and he's not going to start now.

He is baffled as anyone as to why he seemingly can't buy a hit this spring. But you won't hear him blame it on his health -- his left shoulder, surgically repaired last October, feels fine. It's also not a case of bad luck.

"You don't go 2-for-[34] because you're having bad luck," Burke said. "I feel great physically. I just can't get a hit. That's the only thing I can say."

He's putting the ball in play, but when he connects, he pops it in the air. He's missing pitches he feels he can handle. He believes it's going to come around eventually, but he'd prefer for that to happen sooner than later.

Yes, it's only Spring Training and no, he's not in danger of losing his starting job in center field. But baseball players are proud people. Even when the games don't count in the standings, Burke, like most players, has no desire to not get a hit almost every time he's at the plate.

"The human nature side of it is if you go up to bat, you want to hit," Burke said. "It can be Dec. 3 and you're playing in an alumni game. You don't go up to bat and say, 'I think I'll make an out right here.' It just never happens.

"When you don't get hits, it's going to be frustrating. But you look at it and say statistics don't count and the whole deal is to try to get ready for Opening Day. The honest truth is if you told me Opening Day was next week, I'd feel fine. By the same token, it still is frustrating and you want to get hits."

Of course, it doesn't help that while he's struggling, the presumed heir apparent in center field, Hunter Pence, is putting together an unprecedented spring season. While Burke is hitting .059 (2-for-34), top prospect Pence carries a whopping .652 average (15-for-23).

This, of course, has moved a small minority of fans to call for an immediate benching of Burke, which would make room for Pence to man center Opening Day.

It's not going to happen. But Burke understands the passion from the fans.

"I can totally see the fans' perspective," he said. "One guy's not making a hit, the other guy's not making an out. It doesn't surprise me or upset me. That's what fans do, and I can see where they're coming from. I think that we still have a long time to get things ironed out.

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"Physically, I feel fine, and I'm not upset about the way things are going," he said, adding with a chuckle, "other than the fact that I'm getting out every single time I go to the plate."

Count manager Phil Garner and general manager Tim Purpura as two decision makers who are not worried about the outfielder, still considered the second-baseman-in-waiting.

"Did anybody say after Luke Scott's spring that they were worried about him getting off to a poor start?" Garner asked, referring to Scott's .368 spring average in 2005 that resulted in a .154 start to the regular season.

"Every year there's probably two kids on every team that had springs like that and they start the season off terribly," Garner continued. "Every year there's probably five or six kids that have rotten springs and start the year fine. We make way too much of some things in Spring Training, and that's one of the things we're making too much of."

So Burke isn't in danger of losing his starting job?

"No," Garner said. "Not now. Most everybody is in danger of losing their job at some point, somewhere, if they're not performing. But not him, in Spring Training."

Purpura was as emphatic with his reply to the same question. Burke was anointed the starting center fielder from the very moment the Astros traded Willy Taveras to the Rockies, and making a change now is not a consideration.

"I can remember sitting in the room when this idea came up during the Winter Meetings," Purpura said. "If we trade Willy, who plays center field? I said to Gar, 'Are you comfortable with Chris Burke in center field?' He said, 'Absolutely.' That's been the plan, and it's going to stay that way."

Not having to worry about playing his way off the team, Burke will concentrate on reversing his forgettable Spring Training start.

"I'm not going up to bat going, 'I'm not seeing the ball,' or, 'It looks like it's a Ping-Pong ball' or anything like that," he said. "I feel fine. I'm not by any means happy with my results, but at the same time, I feel confident every day I come to the park.

"I work on my swing, and batting practice has been great. I haven't translated it into games with the success that obviously you'd like to see. With that said we still have a lot of Spring Training games left. I still think there's a lot of time to iron things out."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.