GLENDALE, Ariz. – The White Sox almost put their likely Opening Day lineup on display for the first time Tuesday — with starter Jeff Samardzija and everything.
The guy at the top, Adam Eaton, was a late scratch with a stomach virus. After Eaton participated in morning workouts, manager Robin Ventura sent him home to get well and not risk getting anyone else sick, so he missed Tuesday’s game that ended in a 5-5 tie.
Samardzija threw four-plus innings, allowing two runs. Trayce Thompson hit a game-tying homer in the eighth inning for the Sox (5-7-3).
Too bad. Eaton likes how it looks down below, and he was eager to see how the lineup might play as Ventura had written it up: Eaton CF, Melky Cabrera LF, Jose Abreu 1B, Adam LaRoche DH, Avisail Garcia RF, Alexei Ramirez SS, Conor Gillaspie 3B, Tyler Flowers C, Micah Johnson 2B, Jeff Samardzija P.
In some ways that lineup starts with the No. 9 hitter, speedster Micah Johnson (assuming the rookie makes the team, a possibility that seems more likely each day). With Johnson before him and free agent addition Cabrera after him hitting second, Eaton likes how things set up.
“We’re not turning the corner at 9, 1 and 2, we’re hauling ass around the corner at 9, 1 and 2,’’ Eaton said. “Pitchers are going to be [mad] because our 1-through-6 or 7 is going to be [tough]. And when they get to Micah, he’s going to fight for eight pitches, and they won’t want to see me because I’m going to fight for eight or nine pitches and Melky’s going to put the barrel on the ball, and then you have to see Abreu again. That’s going to be tough for teams.
“That’s the plan, of course. We have to put it into action. Doesn’t that sound good?’’
It sounds tougher than what opposing pitchers had to face last season, a lineup churned out a .237 average and .279 on-base percentage from the second spot and .218 and .272 from the ninth spot. Abreu, the major league slugging percentage leader, now has a tough out in the switch-hitting Cabrera in front of him and a professional power hitter in LaRoche behind him.
Johnson stole 84 bases in the minors two years ago. Slowed by hamstring and knee problems last year, he dropped to 22. So far this spring, his legs are healthy and he looks fast, although he isn’t stealing a lot – perhaps to save his legs – with one steal in two attempts. The encouraging thing is he’s batting .458.
Johnson was moved to the leadoff spot Tuesday (J.B. Shuck replaced Eaton and batted ninth). Eaton said if it works better that Johnson leads off and he bats ninth, so be it.
“As long as we’re side by side that’s going to be great for us,’’ Eaton said. “We can do a lot with each other. Hit and run, bunt and run, I can take pitches because I don’t mind hitting with two strikes, giving him chances to run. It’s really endless. And with Melky and I and Micah you have three guys who can run the bases in front of Jose and LaRoche.’’
In putting this team together, general manager Rick Hahn wanted to see a lineup that gives no breathers to pitchers. Executive vice president Ken Williams can’t get enough grinders, and this lineup potentially can be annoying to pitchers.
“Micah on the back end hitting one off his fist and digging one out,’’ Eaton said, “then you’re really [mad] and you have to face another little [crap] like me. Then you’re really [mad]. That’s what we want. We want to be a little thorn in people’s sides all year.’’