CHICAGO -- Continuing to put Aki Iwamura in the leadoff spot certainly doesn't seem ideal given the second baseman's offensive problems. However, when asked about the perplexing lineup placement on Saturday, manager John Russell said he sees few other options.
The closest thing the Pirates have to a prototypical leadoff hitter would be Andrew McCutchen, who has the ability to get on base consistently and the speed to cause havoc once he does. However, Russell doesn't want to move McCutchen out of the No. 3 spot in the order where he has shown that he can be a run-producing threat.
"It's not easy to plug a guy into the leadoff spot," Russell said. "There's just not too many of those guys around. You look at what you have and you try to balance it as best you can. Aki has the ability to do it because when he's going well, he works the count."
So what are Russell's other options? Ronny Cedeno has some speed, but the .267 on-base percentage he had coming into Saturday's game isn't especially appealing for a leadoff hitter.
Lastings Milledge has hit atop the order twice, but the Pirates still see the outfielder profiling more as a middle-of-the-order hitter, especially if he can start to show any power. Given his plate patience and consistent ability to get on base, Andy LaRoche would seem to be an intriguing option. But Russell likes having LaRoche hit right in front of McCutchen.
All this means that for now, Iwamura will continue to try to work his way out of a slump while getting more at-bats than anyone else in the lineup. Iwamura entered Saturday hitting .161 with a .255 on-base percentage. In his first 41 at-bats this month, Iwamura had just two hits.