Changing lineups for the third time in five games, maybe Lou Piniella finally has found one to his liking.
He should, after newcomer Reed Johnson looked at home in the No. 2 spot and even got Derrek Lee going behind him, the pair combining for six hits and four RBIs as the Cubs pounded Houston 9-7 Saturday at sun-kissed Wrigley Field.
Yes, Johnson, grabbed at the end of spring training after his release from Toronto, will be starting in center field again Sunday in the series finale.
"Your first start, to be able to contribute, there's no better feeling than that," Johnson said.
Lee seemed to appreciate it as well, having someone running around the bases in front of him. Hitting just .222 with one RBI in four games, Lee erupted with a 4-for-4 day that included his second home run, which is twice as many as he had all last April.
"We put up some runs and that's what we've been looking for," Lee said. "Obviously, the weather probably helped us with the wind blowing out."
Lee's third-inning homer didn't need the wind. It flew out to right center, making three of his hits to the opposite field.
"I just hit it where they pitch it," he said. "I don't care where it goes as long as it falls in for a hit."
The nine runs, six of them against Houston ace Roy Oswalt, were only three fewer than the Cubs had scored in their first four games. And the Cubs did it without a hit from leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano and cleanup man Aramis Ramirez, who are hitting .045 and .125, respectively.
"We need to get [Soriano] going," Piniella said. "He has struggled so far this year [and] he's right up there at the top of the lineup."
Minus Soriano and Ramirez, the rest of the Cubs bats had to come from behind to win their second game of the season, as starter Jason Marquis left with a 5-2 deficit in the sixth inning.
But the bats—which included that of Kosuke Fukudome, who doubled in the two lead runs in the seventh—saved the day for reliever Kevin Hart, who pitched a scoreless 12/3 innings of relief for his first major-league victory, and then for Kerry Wood to pick up his second save in two tries with a perfect ninth inning.
Johnson, who replaced Felix Pie in center field, finally got his chance Saturday because the Cubs are facing six straight right-handers to start the season. Originally, Piniella said he would bat Johnson primarily against lefties, but Pie was struggling with a .200 average.
Johnson knows he's going to get at least one more chance—and probably two because Pittsburgh is starting a lefty Monday.
"I'll try to get on base in front of the big guys and hopefully they drive me in," he said. "Derrek is swinging the bat well. We'll keep looking for that every day and hopefully I'm on base in front of him."
As for the outfield fans, known to be fickle, Johnson started on the right foot Saturday.
"Hopefully I stay on their good side," he said with a smile.