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Perez's speed an asset to Cubs

The Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants tied for the fewest stolen bases in the Major Leagues last season with 55.

The last real base-running threat that the Cubs featured in their lineup was outfielder Juan Pierre during the 2006 season. That season, Pierre stole 58 bases for a horrendous North Side team that Dusty Baker managed to 96 losses.

In 2011, the Cubs can envision the element of speed as something of a possibility. Now that Fenando Perez, acquired this offseason from Tampa in the Matt Garza deal, is vying for an outfield spot. Perez is in the running for the fifth outfielder spot as is veteran Reed Johnson.

The speedy Perez scored the game-winning run Monday after walking, stealing second, moving to third on a fly ball and scoring on a single.

“We haven’t had a lot of guys around here [who can run],” Cubs manager Mike Quade said. “When you have a guy with those kinds of skills, that’s cool. Just to watch him and see him when he’s going, I’m not dictating anything out there. He has the green light. He’s going pitch to pitch. He did a nice job of handling the pitchers’ move and then he goes.”

The luxury of having a top-flight baserunner with electric speed is something GM Jim Hendry and Quade will have to decide on when they make their final roster cuts and choose either Perez or Johnson.

If Perez can hit, he could be a game changer for the Cubs and for Quade.

“The idea that the guy can steal a base is huge,” Quade said. “But the threat itself can go a long way in causing pitchers problems. There’s a lot of variables as to what you can do offensively [with speed] and how it affects the game defensively as well.”

Since 2000, the Cubs have had only three players steal more than 30 bases in a season (Eric Young had 54 in 2000, Corey Patterson stole 32 in 2004 and Pierre’s 2006 season.)

On Monday, Perez was giving a standing ovation by the Hohokam crowd after his stolen base that led to a 15-14 win.

“Even on a day when the ballpark is playing like that, a stolen base was a huge deal,” Quade said.

Perez, who has gone back to switch-hitting this season, is scheduled to get a lot more looks this spring.

“I would say with Fernando’s at-bats, they matter,” Quade said. “And I’m anxious to see him get as many at-bats as we can.”