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Ventura offers more lineup insight

Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura gave more clues to his regular-season batting order while speaking during Friday’s Cactus League game against the Chicago Cubs.

In a conversation with commentators Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone during the broadcast on WGN, Ventura said that newcomer Jeff Keppinger is projected to bat most often in the No. 2 spot this season.

That had always seemed the most logical decision, considering Keppinger's ability to make contact, but previously it had been suggested that he could see some time toward the back end of the order to help with a lack of on-base percentage in that area. That no longer seems to be the plan.

“I think last year (No. 2 hole) seemed to be a spot for us that we struggled at times,” Ventura said. “Once we got (Kevin Youkilis) it got a little bit better. But starting the year (with) a guy like (Keppinger) that’s going to be in that spot you feel confident. There are a lot of different things that he could do that we weren’t able to do last year. I think he’s going to be great whether it’s there or sometimes batting third.”

Ventura did not specify is his plan for Keppinger in the No. 3 spot will come only when players in the heart of the order are getting a day off, or if he will drop Adam Dunn and/or Alex Rios in the order to make it happen.

The White Sox were dead last in the American League in batting average from their No. 2 hitters (.221) last season and they were 12th of 14 teams with a .296 on-base percentage.

More importantly, the White Sox want somebody who can put a bat on the ball to move over runners, as well as hit-and-run on occasion. Keppinger was the toughest player to strike out in the American League last season, fanning just 31 times or once every 13.5 plate appearances.

“That’s part of the game that needs to happen,” Ventura said. “You get them in scoring position you can get them in. Having a guy like that that can handle the bat it frees it up for everybody else.”

Now comes the matter of Keppinger’s health. He started the spring slowly after breaking his leg over the winter and then developed a sore shoulder while in Arizona. Ventura said he is at full strength now, but didn’t start Thursday because he is tending to a family matter.

Ventura isn’t worried about Keppinger’s ability to get into the swing of things.

“He was ready to go right when he got here,” Ventura said. “Swinging the bat he’s been doing a lot of great things in these games.

Other batting order decisions remain, including how to line up the three, four and five hitters. Rios batted third in the Cactus League opener with Dunn fifth. But Rios has been away at the World Baseball Classic while playing for Puerto Rico for most of the spring so Ventura hasn’t tipped his hand at what order he might prefer.