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posted: 2/24/2012 12:00 AM

Never too early to talk Cubs lineup combos

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MESA, Ariz. -- Position players reported for Cubs spring training Thursday.

They'll take the field Friday for their first formal workouts. So it's never too early to ask the manager about possible lineup combinations.

Regarding two important spots, right fielder David DeJesus is the likely leadoff hitter, and first baseman Bryan LaHair figures to be the cleanup man.

"It might be (Alfonso) Soriano hitting fourth," said manager Dale Sveum after indicating his preference for LaHair. "I'll sit down and iron all that out when we get a little closer here (to Cactus League games) in about four or five days."

On-base ability is key to the leadoff spot, with speed being a bonus. DeJesus had a low .323 on-base percentage last year with Oakland, but he's a lifetime .356 OBP guy.

"Yeah, in a perfect world, you'd love to have the on-base guy hitting first and maybe a left-handed hitter hitting second that doesn't hit into double plays that can hit the hole if he's left-handed," Sveum said. "There's nothing wrong with having your power guys up to get them up in the first inning to take a quick lead. There's all kinds of different philosophies, which one works and what kind of makeup you have on your team.

"We obviously have a lineup that nobody's cut and dry at any position right now. Just wait until spring training gets going and watch what happens. On March 20, March 25, you make a lot of the decisions then."

When the Cubs last made the postseason, in 2008, they led the National League in OBP, walks and runs scored. Last year, when they went 71-91, they were 10th in OBP, 15th in walks and eighth in runs scored.

Shortstop Starlin Castro led off much of the season and batted .327 with a .370 OBP in that spot. This year, Castro may move down to third, where he batted .225 with a .251 OBP last year.

No Castro worries:

Manager Dale Sveum did not seem concerned about Starlin Castro being distracted when he arrives for spring training. Last month at the Cubs convention in Chicago, Castro had to deal with news of a sexual-assault allegation leveled at him. No charges have been filed.

"Everything's what it is right now," said Dale Sveum. "Spring training is upon him, which I'm sure he's looking forward to. So tell him to be himself and don't worry about any other distractions. It's baseball season now, and that's all you got to worry about."

Another year of Soriano:

Embattled left fielder Alfonso Soriano still is a Cub, and he's expected in camp Friday. Soriano has three years and $54 million left on his eight-year contract.

He hit 26 home runs and drove in 88 last year. In five years with the Cubs, Soriano has a hitting line of .266/.320/.498 with 132 home runs.

"You play him every day and give him some days off, especially those day games when we're getting back off the road to keep his legs fresh," Dale Sveum said. "You need his bat in the lineup. The guy works his butt off all the time. I think there's no doubt the fans lost a little faith in him sometimes with some things that he does. But I think the fans have to understand that he's probably the hardest-working guy in the clubhouse. That's always refreshing, and the players love him to death."

Blake's back:

Infielder Blake DeWitt drove to Arizona from his Missouri home. He recently was designated for assignment and accepted an outright assignment to Class AAA Iowa. He's in camp as a nonroster man and will battle to regain a spot on the team.

"That's your goal every year in spring training, to make the team," DeWitt said. "So nothing's changed. There's no added stress. There's no anxiety. Just go out and have fun."

And about that drive?

"It's a little bit of a drive," he said. "It was fun, seeing parts of the country I had never seen. Just kind of looking the plane window the other times, so driving through there was a lot of fun."

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