After six weeks of debate in spring training over who should start at second base, Cubs manager Dusty Baker pronounced Todd Walker his "primary" guy three days before the opener.
Baker referred to Jerry Hairston, the odds-on favorite to win the job when camp began, as his "secondary" second baseman and Neifi Perez as his "everywhere" guy.
Things quickly changed, however, after Derrek Lee's broken wrist. The secondary guy is waiting for a chance to prove he also can be a primary guy.
Baker has started the right-handed-hitting Hairston at second against left-handers, but has not given him an opportunity to platoon in right field with Jacque Jones, who is 0-for-9 against lefties. Hairston takes fly balls in batting practice, but it's becoming apparent the Cubs consider him a role player.
After playing so much in spring training, Hairston once again is adjusting to his role off the bench. He's hitting .286 after an 0-for-4 effort in Wednesday's loss to Florida.
"It's a little difficult, but you just try to keep yourself sharp and do the things where you anticipate playing," he said. "You have to have the mind-set 'I'm playing today.' That's something I try to do every daytake a few more ground balls, hit extra in the cage."
Since coming from Baltimore in the Sammy Sosa deal, Hairston has shown flashes of what kind of player he can be. For instance, Tuesday night he executed a squeeze bunt to score a run against Florida.
But he also has done maddening things, such as lunging at the first pitch he saw in the fourth inning Wednesday after Scott Olsen had walked the bases loaded and had thrown four straight balls.
Now the Cubs' bench is more important than ever with Lee out, and with all the double-switches Baker likes to pull, Hairston is a potentially valuable commodity.
Because the Cubs also may have to play a few days without catcher Michael Barrett, who sprained the middle finger of his left hand on a headfirst slide Tuesday night, Baker might have only four bench players this weekend against Milwaukee. That includes seldom-used reserves Freddie Bynum and Michael Restovich.
Hairston is likely to be on the bench Friday before facing Milwaukee lefties Doug Davis and Chris Capuano on Saturday and Sunday. His speed is an asset the Cubs seldom have exploited, but now could be the time.
"We're going to have to play [small ball]," Hairston said. "We know that losing a guy like D-Lee, an MVP-caliber player, is going to hurt.
"We really need to focus on getting a guy in from third base, doing the little things. That's something we've really stressed as a team, and even more now. Anytime you lose your superstar, we know everybody has to do a little bit more."
The Cubs did exactly that Tuesday night, with Hairston contributing his squeeze.
"Tuesday night was a perfect example," Hairston said. "It was terrible weather, cold and windy and Dontrelle [Willis] on the mound. We knew we had to do the little things, whether it's a bunt, moving runners over, getting the guy in from third. We did a great job.
"Juan Pierre is the catalyst. He keeps everyone loose and going. That's one thing about this teamwe don't get down. We stay positive. We're fighters.
"We know we've been dealt a big blow, not only with Kerry [Wood] and Mark [Prior] going down but obviously now with D-Lee out. But we know we still have good players here."
Hairston ready, waiting
Needs to make the most of his opportunities
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