10/11/2003 6:30 PM ET
Lowell in lineup, Cabrera to RF
McKeon shuffles lineup looking to add offense
MIAMI -- Mike Lowell has found his way back into the Florida Marlins' starting lineup, as manager Jack McKeon made the risky decision to move him back to third base and shift rookie Miguel Cabrera to right field in place of struggling Juan Encarnacion for Saturday's Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Encarnacion played 155 games in right this season and became the first outfielder in franchise history to finish a season with a 1.000 fielding percentage. Cabrera has never started in right and made his first Major League appearance there with a double-switch in Friday's Game 3 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
Lowell suffered a broken hand when hit by a pitch on Aug. 30, and the only other time he has started since then was the last day of the regular season -- which proved to be too soon due to rust. He was the hero of Game 1 of this NLCS with an 11th-inning pinch-homer, and his status has remained the hot topic of this series.
"Well, Encarnacion has been struggling a little bit, and I figured we'd get Mike in the batting lineup and see if that helps us, give us a spark," McKeon said. "You can't take the kid (Cabrera) out of the lineup -- he's been productive. (Jeff) Conine has been successful. The only one slipping a little bit was Encarnacion, and maybe a day or so will help him."
Encarnacion is hitting .185 (5-for-27) in this postseason, with two homers -- including one in Game 1 at Wrigley Field. He was 0-for-3 in the Game 3 loss Friday night at Pro Player Stadium. Encarnacion struck out swinging in the second and fourth innings against Kerry Wood. In the sixth, with one on and one out, Encarnacion flied out to right. Cabrera replaced him in right on a double-switch that allowed Lowell to play third -- marking Cabrera's Major League debut in right.
Cabrera has carried over his torrid September into the playoffs, and enters Game 4 batting .429 after a 2-for-4 effort Friday. He has 10 hits in 19 at-bats (one double, two homers, five RBIs) over his last four games. McKeon said it was not a question of whether to play Cabrera -- but where.
"I had a choice to put him in right or left, and Conine is more familiar in left," McKeon said. "So we decided to go with (Cabrera) in right. I talked to Jeff, I read somewhere that it was a mistake putting him in left field because he played all these games in right field. But when I talked to him today he said he hadn't played right field for a while. But he's more familiar with left field."
Regarding the fact that Cabrera never had played right field before Friday, McKeon said, "He never played in left field before, either. So now he's got one game out there."
Despite Cabrera's remarkable emergence late this season and his clutch performances in the playoffs, there is no question that people will be watching his every fundamental move in right field at Pro Player. Encarnacion handled 336 total chances this season, with seven outfield assists, and is a Gold Glove candidate. Now an untested player has replaced him, at a crucial moment with the world watching. How big of a gamble is this?
"We did it before in left field. And he's an athlete," McKeon said of Cabrera. "We've got good outfielders in right and left, and they've made some great plays, and never made some plays, so it's six of one, half-dozen of another. I didn't know Conine was such a good outfielder until I saw him play out there. Put him in left, put Conine in right. (Conine) is more familiar and happy in left, so I put him there."
McKeon said the coaching staff would "spend a little time with (Cabrera)" in right field before Game 4 game and possibly thereafter. "But I don't know if there's too much difference between right and left. It's a gamble every night."
Elaborating on Encarnacion's recent struggles, McKeon said, "I think a lot of times you catch a guy and he goes two or three days, just not seeing the ball maybe well or chasing some bad pitches. But they bounce out of that. He's been another offensive weapon off the bench, like Lowell was."
Cabrera is batting fifth in McKeon's lineup tonight, followed by Lowell and Conine, respectively.
Mark Newman is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.