Asked about the ever-changing leadoff situation Friday, manager Lou Piniella said he would try different players in the spot for a while to see who's the best fit to replace Alfonso Soriano for the next six weeks.
"And when we find something we like," he said, "we'll stick with it."
Less than 24 hours later, after Reed Johnson hit a three-run home run against the Toronto Blue Jays to lead the Cubs to a 6-2 victory over his former team, Piniella was ready to make the call.
"I would think you'll see him in there more often than not," Piniella said.
Johnson's three-run shot off Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay capped a four-run second inning, and Jason Marquis allowed one run on four hits over seven innings to earn his fourth straight victory. The Cubs have split the first two games of their opening interleague series and will send former Toronto pitcher Ted Lilly to the mound in Sunday's finale.
Johnson was the third player Piniella has used in the leadoff spot since Soriano's left hand was broken Wednesday night. Neither Eric Patterson nor Ryan Theriot fared well in one-game auditions, while Johnson went 1-for-5 but came up with the big hit when it mattered.
Now Johnson must prove to Piniella he was the right choice all along.
"I think he knows and I know I'm comfortable in that spot," Johnson said. "I've hit there my whole career, from high school all the way up to the big leagues. It's a tough spot to hit in the lineup. A lot of guys don't know how to approach it. They don't know when to be aggressive, when to be patient.
"When you've been in that spot your whole career like me or like Soriano, you know the spots that you pick. I think it's going to be a good thing for us."
Toronto released Johnson in March, and he immediately signed with the Cubs. Now he has given the Blue Jays a reason to regret their decision. He received a standing ovation while pinch-hitting Friday and earned more applause Saturday.
Why is Johnson so popular in Toronto?
"I don't know," he said. "I play the game the way I know how, and I think the fans appreciate that. It's rewarding to know that you've made an impact on the city and on the baseball fans in the city. I'm in Chicago now and hopefully I can do the same there."
Johnson already has made a name for himself in Chicago with some memorable catches in center field, including one in Washington in April that some consider the best they ever have seen. But returning to the ballpark he played in most of his career and discovering how much he's missed has made this an emotional homecoming.
"It was great," he said. "I had a lot of good memories in Toronto, and that's just one more to add to the collection. It's something I'll never forget.
"I wish my wife and family and [friends] who have been here were here to see it. I expected people to stand up and clap. But I didn't know it was going to be as special as it was. A lot of guys in the clubhouse said the same thing. It was a pretty special deal for me."
Saturday's victory was special for the Cubs, who have a .714 winning percentage (25-10) since May 9 and managed to beat the Blue Jays' ace in his own ballpark.
"Any time you can beat a Halladay, you feel good about it," Piniella said. "It was a good win for us."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times