Alfonso Soriano should see time in Cubs’ leadoff spot
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com March 2, 2012 9:34PM
Alfonso Soriano is open to sometimes batting leadoff, where his career numbers are best. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: April 4, 2012 8:08AM
MESA, Ariz. — Alfonso Soriano batting leadoff?
Believe it or not, it could be coming back to a North Side ballpark near you soon — at least in cameo appearances.
Soriano, the Cubs’ most popular lightning rod whose status as leadoff man from 2007 to 2009 was the subject of great fan angst, could see occasional time in the leadoff spot, manager Dale Sveum said Friday.
Soriano last started a game at the top of the order July 3, 2009.
‘‘During the season, a lot of things can come up to where, yeah, it can happen,’’ said Sveum, who had Soriano leading off during a Cubs intrasquad game Friday. ‘‘You really want Soriano just to be in an RBI spot. That’s what you really want.’’
Sveum said he likes new right fielder David DeJesus as a regular leadoff guy at this point but emphasized that the Cubs’ roster doesn’t offer an obvious, regular lineup choice.
Planning to look at numerous combinations during the first two weeks of exhibition games, Sveum approached Soriano about leading off, which figures to provoke swift public backlash if it leads to a regular look of his lineup.
‘‘What I say to him is, ‘I’m open,’ ’’ Soriano said. ‘‘So any decision that he makes, I’m happy. Maybe he tries something in spring training, because now is the right time to do it, see how I look, see how the team looks, and then make the decision.’’
Soriano has a .338 on-base percentage and .877 OPS as a leadoff hitter — both numbers tops in his career for any lineup spot. He has by far the most plate appearances (3,630) in that spot.
‘‘His numbers as a leadoff hitter are pretty good in his career,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘Whether he’s leading off an inning or leading off a game, his numbers are pretty incredible over his career.’’
Leading off an inning, it’s .331 on-base and .879 OPS. Leading off a game, it’s .350, .970 with 54 homers.
‘‘I feel very comfortable [there],’’ Soriano said. ‘‘But more important, I feel healthy. So any part of the lineup, I’ll be great, I’ll be fine.’’
By comparison, he’s 11-for-56 (.196) with two homers and five walks as a cleanup hitter.
‘‘If you want to get into details of why you might come up with something like that, it could be as simple as that,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘We don’t have the bona fide guys at any position in the order.’’
Then there’s this detail: The Cubs’ only winning seasons in the last seven years have come when Soriano opened the year as the leadoff man.
Sveum said he plans to have an Opening Day lineup decided by around the middle of the month.
Besides his early thoughts on DeJesus leading off and Soriano or Bryan LaHair as the cleanup guy, Sveum suggested Friday that Starlin Castro could be his No. 3 hitter.
‘‘A guy like that should be put in an RBI spot,’’ he said. ‘‘When and what time, that’s always the million-dollar question with young hitters: Can they handle hitting in the heart of the lineup?’’
† Brett Jackson (2-for-2) homered leading off the six-inning intrasquad game Friday, and Matt Szczur had three hits (including a grand slam) and six RBI and scored from second on a wind-blown fly ball to right as a lineup of mostly prospects trounced the mostly regulars 10-4. Said Szczur: ‘‘It’s supposed to be the future. Hopefully, it is. And it was fun.’’
† Right-hander Randy Wells was the beneficiary of all the run support, pitching three solid innings. He missed a scoreless outing when an errant relay on a potential inning-ending double-play extended the second inning.