Notes: Soriano settles in at center
Piniella confident slugger will be fine playing new position
LAS VEGAS -- When Lou Piniella took over as manager of the Cubs, he didn't have too many big lineup decisions to make. The corner spots in the infield and outfield were pretty well set. Up the middle, Michael Barrett was anchored at catcher, shortstop Cesar Izturis was acquired late last year and second baseman Mark DeRosa came on board in the offseason to solidify the infield.
The one big question was where to play Alfonso Soriano. The All-Star slugger had played primarily at second base and left field in his previous stops with the Yankees, Rangers and Nationals. Last year was Soriano's first full season as an outfielder, and he made 11 errors in Washington. But he also led the National League with 22 outfield assists, and displayed enough range that Piniella decided to give Soriano a shot in center field.
Soriano made three errors in Cactus League play and struggled with some fly balls, but with the season opener just two days away, Piniella has deemed the experiment a success.
"We're going to find out in Cincinnati and into the start of the season. In Arizona, it's hard to judge," Piniella said. "The wind blows, the ball carries, the fields are big, there's a high sky, the sun plays a factor. It's not an easy place to play. I've seen some pretty darn good outfielders struggle this spring.
"Now, where is he? I think toward the end of Spring Training, I got the feeling he was a little tired out there. We've given him a little bit of a breather. Once we get into the cooler weather, he'll be stronger. I think he's going to be just fine."
Izturis impresses: If any of the starters had to earn a job in Spring Training, it might have been Izturis, who came over from the Dodgers in the Greg Maddux trade last September. He hit just .233 in 22 games with the Cubs and had to quell rumblings about Ronny Cedeno or someone from outside the organization taking his job this spring.
But Izturis did everything the Cubs asked him to do in the Cactus League, handling the bat well and making all the plays necessary in the field. He hit .311 this spring, wrapping it up with two hits, including an RBI double, and a walk in Friday night's 8-5 win over the Mariners in Las Vegas.
"I see him as [our] everyday [shortstop] right now," Piniella said. "What I've got to do is keep him rested, and we've been able to do that all spring. He responds well to that. If we can get him out there 80 percent of the time, it'd be about 130 games or so, roughly. He'll do a very nice job for us.
"He's really played well. He solidifies our infield. He's very smooth out there. Good hands, really good mechanics, good throwing arm, very accurate, and offensively, he can really do the small things that you need to do to win baseball games -- moving people over, makes some good contact, and actually had a good spring with the bat. We're pleased with him."
Cubs Nation represents: The Las Vegas economy once again benefited from the Cubs' arrival in town, as a slew of the team's fans turned out in droves for the two-game series. Friday's crowd of 11,562 was heavily partisan in favor of the Cubs.
"There are a ton of Cub fans everywhere in this country," Piniella said. "I got to know that first-hand. I live in Tampa, Fla., and when I was named manager, Cub fans started to come out of the crevices. They're all over the place. That's one of the reasons that this franchise has been so successful from a financial standpoint. Now, let's see if we can win some baseball games and get ourselves in the postseason and give us a chance to reward our fans."
Jottings: Rich Hill stayed behind in Arizona and Piniella said he would throw about 60 pitches in a Minor League game on Sunday before joining the team on the road. Meanwhile, Wade Miller will be with the team on Opening Day in Cincinnati and is scheduled to throw in a simulated game Tuesday morning to prepare for his first start of the season, April 8 in Milwaukee. ... Derek Lee hit an RBI single in the first inning on Saturday, his only at-bat of the game, giving him a .471 batting average this spring, good for second in the Major Leagues behind Detroit's Placido Polanco.
Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.