Piniella to test Soriano at No. 2 in lineup
Move an attempt to keep slugger healthy; Fukudome to bat fifth
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Lou Piniella plans to experiment with the Cubs lineup, dropping leadoff man Alfonso Soriano to No. 2 in an attempt to keep him healthy while inserting Kosuke Fukudome fifth.
Soriano was projected as the Cubs' No. 1 hitter, but Piniella said the change may benefit the left fielder because, this way, he won't be at high risk.
"We want to keep him in the lineup," Piniella said Wednesday. "Last year, he was out a few times with the leg pulls. If you talk to him now, he's 80, 85 percent. Put it this way -- out of the two-hole, it might be easier for him to not have to run as much. We're just going to look at it."
Piniella didn't tell Soriano about the change until they were in the dugout before Wednesday's game against the Rangers, a 5-4 Texas win. The Cubs medical staff has suggested such a switch as well. Soriano tried to run on his own on Tuesday and was thrown out.
"I don't know -- whatever he feels is right and works for the team, I'm OK with it," Soriano said. "If he thinks batting second I can help the team more, I'm OK with that."
Soriano showed last season that he was most comfortable batting first. In 125 games as the leadoff man, he hit .308 (167-for-542), while he hit .179 (5-for-28) in seven games in the three-hole. Soriano said his legs should be fine in a couple more days. He hasn't been running full speed to protect them.
Will he change his approach if he hits second?
"I don't think so," Soriano said Wednesday. "I want to be the same guy, and aggressive at home plate."
Some No. 2 hitters are asked to move runners over. What about bunting?
"No bunts, no," Soriano said, smiling.
As for Fukudome, Piniella had suggested this offseason that the Japanese right fielder could bat second or fifth, and used him in the No. 3 spot this spring. With the switch, the hope is he'll provide some protection for Aramis Ramirez, drive in runs and break up the Cubs' overload of right-handed hitters.
One other thing Piniella would like to see is a little more power this spring. Soriano responded in the fifth inning against the Rangers with a two-run blast, his first. Felix Pie, still sidelined with a groin injury, leads the team with two home runs, while Fukudome has one. Carlos Zambrano also has hit one.
"I think it's just concentration," Piniella said. "I think it's, 'Well, we have time.' The urgency hasn't set in yet. But the longer you wait, the harder it gets. Start hitting the ball a little bit, driving it and you build on it, and keep working.
"I know people say we can't peak too soon in Spring Training, and that's true," he said. "The problem is you've got to peak."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.