KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Manager Cecil Cooper lived up to his own words by shuffling his batting order throughout the spring season, but he revealed Friday that if the season started tomorrow, the middle of his order would be different from the one he projected just after the first of the year. Instead of hitting Miguel Tejada third, Lance Berkman fourth and Carlos Lee fifth, Cooper is leaning toward hitting Berkman third, Lee fourth and Tejada fifth. That is, if the season started tomorrow. And it is not, as Cooper pointed out multiple times during a session with reporters in his office Friday afternoon.
"If we had Opening Day tomorrow and I had to pick it, that's what I would pick," Cooper said. "If I had to. But I'm still going to play with it the last week or so." The rest of the order would stay the same. Michael Bourn would lead off, followed by Kazuo Matsui, Berkman, Lee and Tejada. Hunter Pence is still projected to hit sixth, with Ty Wigginton and J.R. Towles rounding out the starting eight. Why the change of heart regarding the meat of the order? Simply put, Berkman has been a solid three-hitter for much of his career, and that just may be where he belongs in '08. "This is where he's hit for years," Cooper said. "That's just the way it is. Some guys are four, some guys can hit anywhere. Some guys are just leadoff hitters." In January, Berkman said not only is he comfortable hitting cleanup, but that's actually where he prefers to be. He's had more at-bats in the cleanup role than anywhere else, but his numbers hitting third and fourth are nearly identical. In the three-hole, Berkman has a career average of .298 with 106 homers and 337 RBIs over 450 games. In cleanup, his career average is .306 with 109 homers and 353 RBIs over 479 games. As expected, Berkman said he doesn't care where he hits, and he'll embrace the three-hole if that's where Cooper wants him.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.