There were two oddities in yesterday’s first Spring Training game, neither of which should be particularly alarming, given the date, but each of which received a fair bit of attention: (1) Alfonso Soriano batting leadoff, and (2) David DeJesus and Darwin Barney getting picked off of first base in the same inning by the catcher.

Fortunately, Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum has offered an explanation for them.

On Soriano leading off (something Sveum and Soriano previously said was a theoretical possibility during the season), Sveum said that it’s just about making sure Soriano gets plenty of at bats without having to spend too much time in the field.

“Certain guys you might not want them out there six or seven innings [in spring training] to get their three at-bats,” Sveum said. “You’ll put some guys at the top of the lineup to get their three at-bats really quick and they only have to play five innings in the field right now.

“You try to gradually build into those seven innings on the field, nine innings on the field. You don’t really like giving guys starts without getting three at-bats. Most guys want three at-bats when they start. That’s kind of the basics of that right now.”

Plausible, agreeable, acceptable. I don’t know why Sveum did the whole “maybe he’ll leadoff in the season” song and dance earlier in the weekend, but I’m pretty pleased with where things stand now.

As for item two, Sveum didn’t exactly want Barney and DeJesus to be picked off, but at least the two were working on something.

“You look at it as bad, I look at it as good,” Sveum said of the pickoffs. “They just made the wrong decision. The right decision – and what we’re doing in Spring Training – is that you have to keep going once you read the instincts. In Spring Training you have the luxury of that happening even if you get thrown out at second.

“You’re trying to get these guys to be aggressive and understand those type of plays. That’s what I’m talking about when getting rid of that second instinct. The first instinct was right. The second instinct got you thrown out at first base instead of second base.”

DeJesus explained a bit more about what the Cubs were working on.

“[First-base coach Dave McKay] was like, ‘Focus on balls in the dirt,'” DeJesus said. “[He said], ‘Once the ball is in the dirt, get in the shuffle and go.’ We both had good jumps on it, but [A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki] picked them both. We were working on something there. Kurt is a quality catcher. It was a great job by him.”

So, in other words, Sveum wants the guys to work on getting aggressive secondary leads, and taking off when the ball is in the dirt. Barney and DeJesus started to do that, decided they couldn’t make it, and got picked off by Suzuki.

Plausible, agreeable, acceptable. Generally speaking, it’s never OK to be picked off first by the catcher, but *if* it’s going to happen, here’s hoping it’s (1) in Spring Training, and (2) in service of getting better.

  • So Ill Cub Fan

    Sounds like players trying to follow managers instructions instead of reacting. They’re trying to change some of their instinctive actions and it wasn’t quite clicking. It’ll take a little time, but the results should be positive.

  • Jeremy

    At least there working on something and it wasn’t a lack of focus that got them picked off just a bad decision, but those types of learning experiences will pay dividends in the season.

  • MichiganGoat

    I like that Sveum seems to be focusing in run production and getting extra bases; although, this seems like an elementary concept that all pro players should understand but I like the aggressive nature of the lesson.

    • Katie

      Yep, base stealing is definitely a lost art especially with the Cubs so I appreciate what he’s trying to do. This is a team that will have to manufacture runs and not squander base on balls. They can create a little havoc for opposing pitchers and take them out of their rhythm.

  • Drew

    I feel a hustle thread coming…..

  • Jeremy

    I have a question for the people that have been at spring training or have had the ability to cover it, How have the guys like Javier Baez, Dillon Maples and Anthony Rizzo have looked so far? I know its early but I’m just curious as to what their first impressions have been.

    • Brett

      I’m open to being corrected, but I believe many of the minor leaguers haven’t yet reported to Minor League camp. I believe that includes Baez and Maples (though they’ve been in Arizona intermittently throughout the offseason working out). Rizzo was hitting bombs in batting practice.

      • Jeremy

        Yeah your right, I though Baez was on the 40 man but I was wrong I just checked. Good to here that Rizzo is looking good. I really can’t wait to see him manning 1st even though I really like Lahair. What about Lake, does it look like he has made any progress as far as developing baseball skills?

  • Eric

    Is Bob “The Deer” Dernier still with the organization?

    • Brett

      He is not.

      • Eric

        Thanks for the response. I both love and hate when ex players are in the organization. On one hand I’m glad they have found jobs and am glad they are still cubs; on the other, I tend to find myself making excuses for them.

  • CubFan Paul

    last year my drinking game was: a shot for every walk a Cubs’ player took. I knew the 2011 team would struggle getting on base. Thanks to Pena I drank a lot but we still finished last in walks (my liver thanks Hendry). now the OBP Kings Theo&Co. are in town so i’m quitting that game in favor of Stolen Bases by Cubs

    I’m a huge fan of small ball as a NL fan but with my luck we’ll have 4 players this year with 30plus steals a piece or something crazy

    • Wilbur

      May need to make a reservation for later this summer at your local 12 step program …

      • CubFan Paul

        ha! thats been court ordered twice before

  • EQ76

    Soriano had his best years batting lead-off.. we went to the playoffs 2 years in a row with him batting 1st. I’m not advocating it, but it’s not exactly a terrible idea to at least try it again. Maybe he’s most comfortable and confident batting 1st..

    • Brett

      “Soriano had his best years in his late 20s/early 30s. We went to the playoffs 2 years in a row with him being 31 and 32.”

      Just offering another perspective.

      • HoustonTransplant

        LOL. You know Soriano’s success exists in a vacuum and doesn’t account for things like age, health, etc.! Come on, now.

    • OlderStyle

      I think it begs the question of balancing putting a player in position to best succeed and the needs of the team. If we can assume Soriano will get a large # of plate appearances this season and the numbers suggest he is by far more successful leading off, it may be an option that Dale still has on the table.

  • die hard

    I believe Ricky Henderson batted leadoff late in his career. I am not equating the two but if Soriano is in shape and plays only 5-6 innings per game, then why not? He will often be in a position to drive in the 7th and 8th hitters his last 2 AB.

    • King Jeff

      Soriano and Henderson have different body types and are different types of players. Henderson was still leading off late in his career because he was in great shape, he was still getting on base at a high clip, and still stealing bases. Soriano has not been good at either since joining the Cubs, even when he was batting leadoff. The first batters are supposed to be about setting the table for the entire team, not just for making sure one player is getting his at bats.

    • Diesel

      Rickey Henderson was a freak of nature

      • So Ill Cub Fan

        Agree. They broke the mold with Rickey, even if it was in the third person.

  • brittney

    Sveum is really starting to grow on me. Quade I never really warmed up to. But, Sveum is really working with the guys on the small ball that wins

  • Benjamin Raucher

    This is an excellent blog