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Friday, April 30, 2010
Cubs juggling outfielders with success

By Bruce Levine

Marlon Byrd’s day started with the usual peek at manager Lou Piniella’s lineup, one that the super aggressive Chicago Cubs centerfielder didn’t appear in Friday. Byrd’s pregame trip up to the manager’s office was noted by Piniella in his comments before the game.

“I have Colvin in center field today and I’m sure one of my outfielders wasn’t happy,” Piniella said. “What are you going to do? I’m doing the best I can to get these guys playing time. But forget about at-bats, let’s win some baseball games.”

Going inside Piniella’s thought process, the Cubs manager saw some obvious advantages when breaking down Arizona’s pitching staff, and in particular, starter Rodrigo Lopez.
Chicago Cubs
Tyler Colvin, Marlon Byrd and Kosuke Fukudome celebrate the Cubs' win over the Diamondbacks.

What Piniella noticed was first and foremost that outfielder Alfonso Soriano was a .368 lifetime hitter against Lopez, including three homers and 14 RBIs. The other factor that stood out for Piniella is that the Diamondbacks do not have a left-handed pitcher on their entire staff. Piniella then formulated his lineup using Colvin in centerfield and Kosuke Fukudome in right.

This was his way of implementing as much left-handed hitting as he could find, also adding Mike Fontenot into the lineup as well.

Piniella’s problem has been finding playing time for five quality outfielders with only three spots available each day. Xavier Nady’s last start in the outfield was Saturday against Milwaukee.

Having one of his outfielders sit for over a week has been causing Piniella a great amount of anxiety, but considering that the other four outfielders have been providing a lot of offensive production, Nady has been the odd man out this week. Actually, Byrd and Fukudome have been the team’s two most prolific run producers. Luckily for Piniella and Co., Friday’s magic worked well as Soriano went deep on Lopez to turn a deficit into a lead.

The manager was able to satisfy Byrd as well by putting him in as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning, when he promptly singled and then homered in the eighth. For one day at least, the outfield rotation worked for almost everyone involved.

“I want to be in there every single day,” Byrd said. “He [Piniella] understands that. I told him [before the game], I’m always ready whenever you need me. I started to get ready in the fifth inning and ended up having a pretty good one.”

The message that Byrd sent won’t be missed by the Cubs’ wily manager. Although he was basically complaining before the game about not being in the lineup, Byrd did it with a positive spin. And much more importantly, backed up his words with big-time production when he was summoned to play.

Notes:

-- Outfielder Alfonso Soriano’s home run off of Rodrigo Lopez was his fourth in 41 at-bats against the Diamondbacks’ veteran pitcher. Soriano is now hitting .390 lifetime vs. Lopez after going 2-for-3 on Friday.

--Shortstop Ryan Theriot extended his hitting streak to 10 games, a personal- and team-high in 2010.

--Kosuke Fukudome‘s home run was his second in as many days. That marked the second time the Japanese outfielder has hit homers in consecutive games in the Major Leagues.

--Catcher Geovany Soto has a .500 on-base percentage, which would be tops in the National League if he had enough qualifying plate appearances. Soto is three appearances short of qualifying for the leader board in that category.