Center fielder Jerry Owens, the man tabbed to replace Scott Podsednik as the White Sox leadoff hitter, has been troubled for most of camp with a strained right groin. With 2 1/2 weeks before opening day, this has become a major concern for the Sox, who don't want a repeat of the struggles they endured last season with the oft-injured Scott Podsednik.
Plan B would be nudging switch-hitting Nick Swisher into the top spot. Manager Ozzie Guillen is reluctant to move speedy No. 2 hitter Orlando Cabrera up a notch. Swisher has never hit leadoff during his career — batting in all of the other eight spots — but had a .381 on-base percentage last season that intrigues Guillen. The Sox aren’t looking for a stolen base threat atop the lineup, just someone to set the table for Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye.
A day after making his first appearance in a Cactus League game since March 4, Owens was scratched from the lineup Wednesday because of soreness.
‘‘I’m concerned because you give him a couple of days to recover, then play him and the next day he can’t be in the lineup,’’ manager Ozzie Guillen said of the strained groin that has bothered Owens since the team’s first intrasquad game last month. ‘‘It’s not something I want to deal with during the season.
‘‘Those kind of injuries can be OK or they can be really bad. We went through that last year with [Scott] Podsednik.’’
Meanwhile, the Sox have explored the idea of batting switch-hitting Swisher in the leadoff spot if Owens’ soreness persists. Guillen is resisting the urge to lift speedy No. 2 hitter Orlando Cabrera up a notch, even though Swisher has never hit leadoff. He has hit everywhere but leadoff during his major-league career, but his .381 on-base percentage last season impresses Guillen.
‘‘I lean toward Swish,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘I know Nick is not a typical leadoff hitter. But the only thing I need from a leadoff hitter is to get on base and score some runs. I don’t want to move [Cabrera] because he is a real good second hitter — he can make a lot of things happen. The only thing I worry about with a leadoff hitter is get on base. If you can steal bases, that’s a plus. But if you get on base, the guys behind you can do the job.’’
Ideally, the Sox would prefer to keep Owens in the leadoff spot and bat Swisher sixth or seventh. But Guillen wants some stability from the leadoff spot and Owens has yet to inspire confidence in that area.
‘‘We’ve seen signs that he can accomplish it, but I don’t know that any of that’s set,’’ hitting coach Greg Walker said. ‘‘[Owens] might be in the starting lineup and not hitting first. We love Swisher’s on-base percentage, we love Cabrera in the two-hole. There are a lot of things to be determined yet. This leg injury has not helped him. This nagging, little thing that he has had going on has not helped. But when he has been on the field, he has performed very well.’’
What do you think the Sox should do?