SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Barry Bonds returned to the third spot in the batting order Saturday for the first time in nearly three years, a move by manager Felipe Alou to try to get the slugger hitting again.

Perhaps to help him hit a home run, too.

Bonds has 713 home runs, one shy of tying Babe Ruth for second place on the career list. He has 328 homers from the No. 3 hole.

“They tell me Babe Ruth hit for average,” Alou said. “Right now, he’s not hitting for average. I believe he’s capable of hitting for average.”

The seven-time NL MVP batted third instead of cleanup for the first time since May 23, 2003, at Colorado, where he went 2-for-3 with two singles in front of Benito Santiago. Alou spoke to Bonds while he was undergoing treatment Saturday morning and brought up the idea of moving him up, something Alou said came to him the night before.

“I think it’s a good time to do that,” Alou said.

before the Giants played the Los Angeles Dodgers. “He’s not hitting right now. Though he’s not hitting, they’re still walking him. We don’t have a cleanup hitter because they’re not pitching to him. Maybe this move will invite some people. He’s going to come up in the first inning for sure.”

Steve Finley batted cleanup behind Bonds, and Moises Alou likely will hit fourth once he returns from an ankle injury.

The 41-year-old Bonds, a two-time batting champion, began the day batting .231 with five home runs and 12 RBIs. He had played 281 games since last batting third. He hasn’t been in the third position regularly since early in 2002, before former skipper Dusty Baker swapped Bonds and Jeff Kent in the order.

Alou had planned to sit Bonds in Saturday’s day game after Bonds played all nine innings in a 6-1 loss to Los Angeles on Friday night, but Bonds already assumed he was in the lineup after saying earlier in the week he planned to play every day through the homestand.

Alou, who celebrated his 71st birthday Friday night, said he and Bonds discussed hitting for the first time since Alou became skipper before the 2003 season, noting “I wasn’t recommending anything.”

“I’m not getting into details,” Alou said. “When you have a guy of that stature, you’ve got to be careful. What I want to see is Barry get back to the hitter he was. … I told him, Let’s try this.’ He’s OK with it. I hope this is not going to be a short-term type of thing. I got out of bed today with that on my mind and told him right away.”

From 1994 – Bonds’ second season in San Francisco – to the beginning of 2002, the slugger primarily batted in the No. 3 spot. Saturday marked his 1,010th career game batting third, where he has a .307 average (1,053-for-3,433) and 785 RBIs. He batted third 78 times during the Giants’ 2002 World Series season and for 20 games in 03.

Alou said he didn’t talk to Bonds about not running out a popup in the eighth inning Friday night. Bonds reached in the eighth on a fielder’s choice when Kent dropped his popup to second.

Kent threw to second for a forceout, and the Dodgers nearly doubled up Bonds, who had turned back toward the dugout before running to first and barely beating the relay throw.

AP-ES-05-13-06 1553EDT