A bad break for Craig Gentry was a good break for Billy Burns.
Tyler Gibson followed his own bad break with good fortune.
Gentry, Oakland’s starting center fielder, took a pitch to the right hand Sunday, and it turns out the hand was broken. That opened the door for Burns, a three-year starter in center field for Mercer, to put on a major league uniform during the season for the first time, making the big jump from Double-A to the big LEAGUES.
Burns got the call Monday and went from Frisco, Texas, to Houston, and was in uniform by the fourth inning. And his debut came quickly. Burns was tabbed to pinch-hit for right fielder Josh Reddick in the top of the ninth and lined out to right in the 7-3 loss.
“I felt OK. Everything was like a fog to me,” Burns told reporters after the game. “With all the lights in the Dome and everything and it just being my first AB, everything was happening really fast, I guess.”
Manager Bob Melvin said before Monday night’s game that he planned to start Burns -- who had an impression-making spring training with the team -- in center on Wednesday.
Gibson, the son of Mercer head coach Craig Gibson, was on the sidelines after he was hit in the hand by a pitch back on May 26 while playing for West Michigan in the Single-A Midwest League. He came home to Macon for more than four weeks of the six-week recovery period and then went to Detroit’s rookie Gulf Coast League team in Lakeland, Florida, also home to the organization’s high Single-A team.
Gibson was having a solid season when he got hurt, and he noted even then the chance, albeit remote, that Detroit might decide to promote him to Lakeland while he was there getting some at-bats. Thanks to three hits in nine at-bats in four games, that’s what the Tigers did. Next on Detroit’s minor league ladder is Double-A Erie of the Eastern League.
Burns was batting .250 at Midland (Texas) in the Texas League, with 51 steals in 56 attempts in 91 games. The 24-year-old from Marietta has pretty much moved up a step each season since he was drafted by Washington after the 2011 college season.
Burns has played in low Single-A (Auburn/New York-Penn League), Single-A (Hagerstown/South Atlantic), high Single-A (Potomac/Carolina) and Double-A (Harrisburg/Eastern and Midland). Washington traded him to Oakland in December, and MLB.com ranks him as the A’s No. 17 prospect.
In three-plus seasons and 357 games, he has 176 steals and has been caught 22 times. He takes a .295 career average with him to the majors. He is also fielding at a .987 clip in his minor league career.
The switch-hitter helped Mercer to the 2010 NCAA tournament, setting single-season marks for runs (73) and steals (30). Gentry expects big things.
“I love the kid. Great attitude,” Gentry said in a San Francisco Chronicle story Monday night. “Obviously everyone knows how fast he is. He can be a big help to us.
“His speed alone can change a ballgame. I’m excited to see him here. It’s going to be fun.”