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Piniella moves Soriano into five-hole

Piniella hits Soriano fifth

LAS VEGAS -- With one exhibition game left before the Cubs open their season, manager Lou Piniella took the opportunity on Saturday to roll the dice with his lineup and take a chance on a new look.

Piniella, with the left-handed Jarrod Washburn starting for Seattle, moved Kosuke Fukudome up to the two-hole and hit Alfonso Soriano fifth -- the left-fielder's first spring start out of the top three spots in the order and only his second start out of the top two.

"All we did is flip-flop Soriano and Fukudome," Piniella said before the game. "The rest of the lineup is basically the same. Let's just take a look at this thing today and see what it looks like, that's all."

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The lineup against the southpaw Washburn was also bolstered by hitting newly acquired center fielder Reed Johnson leadoff. Johnson responded with a home run down the left-field line to open the first inning.

"Against left-handed pitching, I like Johnson in that leadoff spot," Piniella said. "I like him one or two."

With the right-handed Ben Sheets pitching for the Brewers on Opening Day, shortstop Ryan Theriot will be leading off with Fukudome back in the five-hole.

"I actually like Fukudome at the front part of our lineup, I really do," Piniella said. "I haven't looked, but I would venture to say he's got more walks than anybody on our team. He's probably got the highest on-base percentage, or pretty close to it of our regulars. To me, that's a top of the lineup type hitter."

The experiment in the five-slot is less a matter of moving Soriano or Fukudome out of the top of the order and more a question of finding an effective anchor behind Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, the everyday three and four hitters.

"How do I protect Ramirez in the five-hole, that's the issue," Piniella said. "How are we best-suited to protect Ramirez in the fifth hole? Soriano basically has always been a top of the lineup hitter. He has hit in the fifth and sixth spots, and we're going to look at it today. But do we want to take one at-bat away from Soriano if he's swinging the bat better than anybody else? That's why you got to look at it and scrutinize it. Once the season starts all these questions will answers themselves."

A delicate question Piniella is wrestling with is where Fukudome will be most effective -- and how to help make the transition as smooth as possible for the 30-year-old rookie who is a veteran of nine seasons in Japan's Central League. And while hitting fifth may seem like a demotion from the top of the order, there may in fact be added pressure at trying to deliver from the meat of the order, forcing opposing pitchers to pitch to Ramirez.

"I think two would be easier for him, I'm going to be quite honest with you," Piniella said of his rookie right fielder. "Fukudome's got a good history. His at bats have gotten better as Spring Training has progressed."

He looked like a two-hole hitter Saturday, going 2-for-3 with a pair of infield hits batting in front of Lee. Soriano, meanwhile, was 0-for-3 behind Ramirez. The results of Piniella's final experimental exhibition roll of the dice may be inconclusive, but he anticipated a resolution waiting in the wings.

"I wish I knew for sure, I really do," Piniella said of his search for the perfect lineup. "But one thing about it, the beauty of baseball, it'll show you here over the next two or three weeks."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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