Matchups could play key role in lineup
Owens, even Thome might be lower in order against lefties
MESA, Ariz. -- Jerry Owens wants to play center field and hit first in the White Sox lineup.
The fleet-footed left-handed hitter has made that point clear during Spring Training, and he feels confident enough in his own ability to state that the offense will be stronger with him at the top.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has been impressed with Owens during Cactus League play, impressed enough that Owens already has made the 25-man roster and has been all but crowned for the positions he desired. But in some game instances, depending on the opposing pitcher, Owens' spot in the lineup might be written in pencil.
Take Opening Day, as an example. While Owens figures to be on the field in Cleveland, he will form a double leadoff man alignment, of sorts, with Pablo Ozuna, hitting down in the ninth hole against C.C. Sabathia.
Owens, who hit .235 against southpaws last year and .274 against righties, believes he can handle lefties with consistency. He also understands Guillen's desire to mix things up based on matchups.
"Yeah, I understand the matchups, but some lefties are different than others," said Owens, who did not start Saturday against Cubs left-hander Ted Lilly. "Some I see well and others not well at all. Some times I hit lefties better than righties.
"You want to go get more at-bats for guys at the top against certain pitchers. Sometimes it's a little overrated, but I know where he's coming from."
Moving Owens does not stand as the only lineup change Guillen could make, judging by the manager's comments made prior to Saturday's game with the Cubs. Jim Thome, a fixture hitting third since joining the White Sox, could move down in the order against certain left-handers after producing a .196 average when facing southpaws last year.
Nick Swisher would move up to hitting third, in this instance, with Guillen's desire to use Swisher's on-base potential to keep runners on base in front of the big hitters. It's an idea that still remained in its formative stages.
"I like to bat Thome low when we got lefties, but we got to respect the man," said Guillen of his lineup. "The man is a Hall of Famer for a reason. It's something I'm not going to grab a hat and do it.
"I'm going to talk to him about lefties and him batting fifth. I don't have any problem. When you hit 500 home runs and have a career like that, you're going to hit lefties, too. I have to be careful what I do in that particular thing."
Guillen's bottom third of the order figures to include A.J. Pierzynski, along with the winner at third base and second base -- at least when Owens is leading off. That order could be flipped when Ozuna is in the lineup at second.
Regardless of the combination, with Owens first or ninth, this 2008 attack appears to be solid from top to bottom.
"I like being the leadoff guy, and I know I can show them I can hit lefties," Owens said. "At the same time, as long as I'm out there playing, that's what I really want to be doing."
"We got a good lineup," Guillen added. "Even if Thome hits third, we got Swisher down, too. If those guys do what they're supposed to do, we should score a lot of runs. I'm not saying we will, but we should."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.