Piniella has decision to make on Cubs leadoff man

The Chicago Cubs enter the 2010 season with a settled lineup and

little competition for jobs.

The biggest question is who bats first.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella has his choice: shortstop Ryan Theriot

or right fielder Kosuke Fukudome.

One player it will not be is left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who

led off in 2007 and 2008 but was moved to the sixth spot in the

middle of last season. That’s where he’ll begin this season.

“It’s not going to be Soriano, so I’m not going to answer that

one,” Piniella said. “We’ve got Theriot that can lead off. We’ve

got Fukudome, who certainly can lead off also. I think those two

probably more than anybody else.”

The right-handed hitting Theriot led off 41 times last year,

while the left-handed Fukudome batted first 34 times.

If Piniella is leaning toward either right now, it’s probably

Theriot. The 30-year-old batted .284 last year with 21 stolen bases

in 31 attempts. However, his on-base percentage dropped from .387

in 2008 to .343 last year.

Fukudome, 32, is a strong on-base player. His OBP last year was

.375 to go along with a .259 batting average and six steals in 16

attempts. With power in the middle of the lineup, the running game

does not figure into Chicago’s plans anyway.

“We’ll see how our lineup works,” Piniella said. “I thought

Theriot did a nice job last year at the leadoff spot. I thought

Fukudome, with his patience, taking pitches, pitch counts, so

forth. We don’t have a player that’s going to steal 40 or 50 bases,

so that’s not what we’re going to look for.

“On-base percentage is certainly important, going from first to

third is important. Let’s see how these guys are swinging the bats.

I can envision Theriot hitting first. I can envision Fukudome

utilizing that hole to play some first-to-third baseball. I think

Fukudome more in the 2-hole than the 1-hole.”

Both players are saying they’ll do what the manager wants to

them to do, even as each expressed a preference to bat first.

“If I can pick, then I will like to be first,” Fukudome

said.

Theriot led the Cubs in at-bats last year with 602. He also set

career bests in home runs (7) and in RBI (54). But the Cubs don’t

want him swinging for the fences, even though Piniella said early

last season that he’d like Theriot to drive the ball more.

“Hitting first, on-base percentage, obviously,” Theriot said.

“Hit zero homers, that’s great. Be on base. Score runs. Be

productive at the top. In the leadoff spot, there’s a niche for

guys in this game who do that and do it well. Every good team has

one of those guys.

“If that’s the role that I’m in, then great. I would love to do

that. That’s something that I’ll excel at for sure.”

That kind of attitude from both players sounded good to

Piniella.

“I can understand that,” he said. “We’ll see what happens

here in the spring with it. We’ll use one one day and one the next.

We’ll see. It depends on how they’re swinging the bat. It depends

on who the pitcher on the other side is. There will be some

variables but, look, we’d like stay constant, too. We’ll come up

with something.

“I’m glad you said that both of them would like to lead

off.”

NOTES: A second straight day of rain showers curtailed on-field

work Sunday. Both hitters and pitchers did most of their work in

covered cages, at Fitch Park and HoHoKam Park. “Yeah, we got as

much work as we needed to,” Piniella said. “We got some

conditioning in, and all the pitchers threw. We kept half the

pitchers here and sent the other to HoHoKam Park. The hitters got

all the hitting. We really didn’t miss much. Tomorrow, we’re

supposed to get some more rain. We’ll see what happens.” …

Right-handed reliever Angel Guzman is probably “two weeks behind

everybody else,” Piniella said Sunday. Guzman is recovering from

surgery on his right knee last month. Guzman is expected to be

ready to open the regular season on the active roster.