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Swisher settling in as leading man

Swisher settling in as leading man

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CLEVELAND -- For a player who has made a solid living through middle-of-the-order run production during his short but successful career, Nick Swisher admitted to feeling a bit strange with his first at-bat as a leadoff hitter Monday afternoon at Progressive Field.

"It was different," said Swisher of his first game at the top of the White Sox order. "It was like, 'Oh, man. The first pitch. That's me. I better be up there.'

"I changed my routine some and just tried to get things done earlier. I was a little nervous and the adrenaline was flowing. I figured the best thing was to hack at the first pitch and break everything up a bit."

Swisher saw just three pitches in his first at-bat against Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia, grounding out to second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera on the final offering. But from that point moving forward, Swisher served as the perfect catalyst in front of the remaining White Sox sluggers.

In the third inning, Swisher singled and scored on Jim Thome's second two-run home run of the game. In the seventh, he singled and came home on Paul Konerko's two-run, game-tying double to right. Swisher also was intentionally walked by Rafael Betancourt in the eighth.

Orlando Cabrera, the lineup's No. 2 hitter, and Swisher reached base five times combined. Swisher would not be considered the prototypical leadoff man, with a mere four stolen bases over parts of five seasons. But with Jerry Owens out of action, nursing a small tear in his right adductor, Swisher's .361 career on-base percentage and his ability to work the opposing pitcher fit perfectly into the White Sox plans.

"Right now, the biggest thing we are looking for, even more than stolen bases, is getting on base," said White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker of the goal for the White Sox leadoff hitters. "The strength of our lineup is in the middle, and in the American League, you better have three, four or five guys in the middle who can whack it.

"On Monday, we had someone on base for them. That way, instead of Jimmy's home runs being solo, they were two-run shots. That's huge."

The White Sox plan is to have Swisher lead off until Owens returns. At that point, manager Ozzie Guillen said an evaluation would be made as to how the team is playing to see if a change is in store.

"Having a guy who can run a little bit in the leadoff spot is an ideal situation, and obviously, when Jerry comes back and starts playing with us, I think he should be the leadoff guy," Guillen said. "But like I said before, I don't want a guy who can fly and all of a sudden never get on base."

"He's really very versatile and can hit several different places in our lineup," added Walker of Swisher. "If he could steal bases, he would be the prototypical leadoff man -- a switch-hitter with a high on-base percentage and speed. All we can ask now is for him to get on base."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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