Cubs lineup situation remains a jumble

The Cubs' lineup situation remains a jumble. Searching for a spark, manager Lou Piniella tried something drastic last week and said he would "go with this configuration" for a while.

The new "configuration" moves Alfonso Soriano down from the leadoff spot to No. 2 and shortstop Ryan Theriot up from second to first. Soriano has said he'll go along with the switch, even though he'd clearly prefer to bat first, the spot where he's enjoyed most of his career success.

Neither Theriot nor Soriano has been a high on-base guy, but Theriot has shown signs of improving that part of his game this spring. On top of it, Soriano is a high-strikeout batter who may not make enough contact to protect Theriot if he does get on.

The player who has moved around the most is right fielder Kosuke Fukudome. He has batted second, third and now fifth. Fukudome's high on-base percentage in Japan would seem to make him an ideal No. 2 hitter, but Piniella said he likes the idea of having a left-handed hitter bating fifth, behind cleanup man Aramis Ramirez.

Although Piniella said he'll go with this alignment most of the way until the end of spring training, he's been known to change his mind. If Soriano chafes at hitting second or if Theriot can't get on base enough, look for Piniella to move Soriano back to leadoff, Fukudome up to second and Theriot down to seventh.


--RF Kosuke Fukudome may see some action in center field in the final days of spring training. The Cubs don't have a true backup center fielder, and Piniella wants to give Fukudome a look. The Cubs apparently have scrapped a plan to use SS Ronny Cedeno in center. Cedeno, who has battled hamstring injuries this spring, is battling to make the team as a backup infielder.

--C Geovany Soto has gone deep into exhibition games of late as the Cubs want him to handle as many pitchers as possible and to get his batting stroke down. Piniella says the staff occasionally will help Soto call pitches, but for the most part, he'll be on his own. At the plate, the Cubs don't want the right-handed-hitting Soto to forget about using the whole field and going to right and right-center.

--LHP Rich Hill appeared to be in no danger of losing his No. 4 spot in the rotation despite a rough start to the spring. Last year, Hill had an outstanding spring, walking no one during the entire Cactus League season. His control has been off this spring as he tries to iron out some mechanical issues. One thing to watch is how Hill works with men on base. The Cubs want him to quicken his delivery to the plate because runners had been stealing too easily against him.

--CF Felix Pie returned to the lineup Sunday, less than a week after he had outpatient surgery for "testicular torsion." Piniella said he didn't believe the time off would hurt Pie, whom the Cubs are counting on to be their regular center fielder.

--RHP Kevin Hart has separated himself from the pack, and it looks as if he has a job in the bullpen. Hart came up late last year and impressed the Cubs enough to make their playoff roster. When the season opens, he'll work in middle relief, but the Cubs see him as a late-inning guy and possibly a closer candidate in the years to come.

--INF Alex Cintron got a scare Friday when he was hit on the right side of his face by a foul ball off the bat of 2B Mark DeRosa. Cintron was standing in the on-deck circle at the time. The Cubs believe there are no serious or long-term effects. That's important because they're looking for the versatile Cintron to make the team as a non-roster man.

--RHP Jeff Samardzija was optioned to Class AA Tennessee on March 11, but the Cubs say they're pleased with the former Notre Dame football star's progress. Samardzija played his first full season in pro ball last year and spent time at Tennessee after beginning the year at Class A Daytona. Piniella said Samardzija looked more like a pitcher this year. Samardzija has a mid-90s mph fastball, but he says his secondary pitches are developing. It's not out of the question he could be up with the big club this season.

--The Cubs returned non-roster INFs Andres Blanco, Luis Figueroa, LHP Ed Campusano and C JD Closser to minor league camp. They released RHP Shingo Takatsu. OF Jake Fox and RHP Juan Mateo were optioned to Class AAA Iowa.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- It looks now as if the Cubs will take only one left-handed reliever: Scott Eyre. With the emergence of Kevin Hart and the need to move a starter to the bullpen, LHPs Neal Cotts and Carmen Pignatiello look to be squeezed out. The Cubs also will go to the end of camp with Rule 5 RHP Tim Lahey.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You just can't say to yourself, 'I'll get them next week,' or, 'I'll get them 10 days from now.' And I'm not saying that's the case, but all I'm doing is sounding a little alarmed." -- Piniella on his team's offensive woes in spring training.

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