TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -The Chicago Cubs leave for Las Vegas late next week. By then, manager Lou Piniella hopes to have all his chips in order.
He expects to announce a closer - most likely Kerry Wood - and fifth starter on Monday. He might also tinker with the batting order before the team breaks camp.
While Ryan Theriot has performed well in the leadoff spot, Kosuke Fukudome has struggled batting fifth and could be moved up to second. That would affect Alfonso Soriano, and possibly No. 3 hitter Derrek Lee and cleanup Aramis Ramirez.
``Theriot gives us more speed out of the leadoff spot,'' Piniella said. ``In turn that gives Soriano more fastballs to hit. At the same time, if they get cute with Derrek (Lee), Soriano could steal bases, too. I've been pleased with it.''
He can't say the same about the fifth spot in the order.
Signed to a $48 million, four-year contract, the Cubs hope Fukudome can duplicate the success of fellow Japanese players Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui. If it happens, it'll take time.
Fukudome is batting just .205 this spring as he adjusts to a new spot in the order - not to mention a new country. Primarily a No. 3 hitter in Japan, Piniella is toying with the idea of flipping him and Soriano in the order. Another possibility is having Fukudome bat second, with Soriano, Lee and Ramirez each dropping a spot in the order.
``I've got him in the five hole, and that's probably not the best spot for him,'' Piniella said.
Piniella thinks the ideal spot for the left-handed Fukudome would be second, but the manager has to weigh that with what's best for the team. Dropping Soriano to third or fifth would leave the Cubs with nothing but righties in the middle of the order.
``That's why I was hoping that Fukudome would hit in that fifth spot to break up that right-hand hitting we have,'' Piniella said.
Piniella said Soriano will not return to the leadoff spot after being bothered by a strained right groin over the final two months last season - at least not until the weather warms. He also said the leadoff role ``might be a nice spot'' for Fukudome.
``The two hole or one hole are both good holes for him,'' Piniella said. ``The problem is ... we've got people who hit in those holes, too. The reason I talked about (the fifth spot) is it breaks up our right-handed hitting. And I thought that he would be good protection for Ramirez. But we'll see.''
Adding to the uncertainty is the ongoing talks with Baltimore for Brian Roberts. If that long-anticipated deal goes through, he would settle into the leadoff spot and other adjustments would have to be made.
As for the bullpen and rotation, Piniella said he'll probably announce decisions on Monday. He also said Felix Pie will open the season as the starting center fielder over Sam Fuld.
Wood will likely pitch on Sunday and Monday, and barring a setback, he is expected be chosen as the closer. The fifth spot isn't as clear.
The manager said Sean Marshall, who pitched Friday against Colorado, is all but out of the race for the fifth spot in the rotation. That leaves Jason Marquis and Jon Lieber competing, with Marshall likely headed to the bullpen.
``Unless something drastic happens, it's going to be hard for him to crack our rotation,'' Piniella said. ``But there's a possibility still that he could pitch out of our bullpen.''
Marshall, whose name has surfaced in trade rumors, added: ``I know that the numbers are what they are and it's tough in my circumstance. Hopefully, I've been pitching well enough that if they need me in the bullpen or need me to fill in the starting rotation, I'll be there for them.''
As for Wood, the Cubs would like to see him pitch on consecutive days before making an announcement. The oft-injured right-hander allowed a run in one inning against the Rockies on Thursday after being scratched from Wednesday's game because of back spasms. The team and pitcher insisted it wasn't serious, but any sign of trouble elicits gasps because of his history.
Wood entered camp in a three-way competition with Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol, and his fastball has been clocked at 98 mph. Another, more important, reason Piniella is leaning toward using him as a closer is he values durability in his setup men.
``The more durability we have in the seventh and eighth innings, the better I like it,'' said Piniella, who has ruled out going with a closer-by-committee. ``Which means, basically, that we don't have to put as much stress on our closer, getting him up and down.''

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