All Right in
After a bumpy start, Alfonso Soriano is settling in with his new position and
his new team. But how long will he be there?
has accepted his fate, albeit grudgingly. "What else can I do?" asks
Washington's new leftfielder. "I'm a second baseman. But the Nationals want
me there, so I'll play in the outfield this season. I just have to make the
best of this."
A month after the
much-publicized dispute between Soriano and the Nats--traded by Texas in
December, the four-time All-Star initially balked at changing positions
( Washington has Jose Vidro entrenched at second)-- Soriano was all smiles,
fielding well and hitting .329 with six home runs and 12 RBIs through
Dominican was considered a poor defensive second baseman whose gaudy home run
totals (32 per season over the last two years) were helped by the Rangers'
hitter-friendly Ameriquest Field. However, in his first 18 games he made only
one error and led NL outfielders in assists (three), and last Thursday in
Philadelphia he made three leaping catches at the wall to preserve a 10--4 win.
What's more, he hit four home runs in his first five games in spacious RFK
Stadium (home to the second-fewest dingers in the majors last season),
including three last Friday against Atlanta, powering the Nationals to their
fifth win in six games.
"We were last
in runs last year, last in slugging," says Washington general manager Jim
Bowden, who was criticized for not pressing Texas for the right to talk to
Soriano about moving to the outfield before pulling the trigger on the deal
that sent outfielder Brad Wilkerson (.182 average, two homers as a Ranger) and
two minor leaguers to Arlington. "He's the big-time run producer this
lineup desperately needed. We knew we were adding a 30-, 35-home-run hitter if
we could convince him to go to the outfield."
A full-time second
baseman since his rookie season with the Yankees in 2001, Soriano says he
finally began to accept the position switch after a mid-March sit-down with
manager Frank Robinson, who described how he had reluctantly moved from the
outfield to first base in 1959 at the request of the Reds. "That opened my
eyes a little bit," says Soriano. ( Robinson returned to the outfield full
time in 1961.)
and athleticism give him good range in left, where he's at least a better fit
than he is in the leadoff spot. (The Nationals have been using him at the top
of the order since April 13, despite his .321 career on-base percentage and
4.3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.) "For me, the toughest part is [reacting]
to line drives at me," he says. "But I'll get better. I'm feeling more
and more comfortable out there and on this team."
He should know
better than to get too comfortable, however. If the Nationals, who were 7--11
at week's end, are out of playoff contention as the July 31 trade deadline
nears, they'll most likely try to deal Soriano, who is making $10 million this
year and will become a free agent after the season. "My preference is to
keep him," Bowden says, "but if circumstances change and the right deal
comes along, [a trade] is certainly possible."
Says a rival
National League general manager, "Last month, when [ Bowden] tried to deal
Soriano with all the mess going on, Soriano's stock couldn't have been lower.
But now he's shown he can be an adequate outfielder who can also play second
base. His success at RFK is reminding people how great a hitter he is. If he
keeps it up, there'll be plenty of interest in him."
start was a bright spot for a franchise starved for positive headlines. Ravaged
by injuries during spring training (six players started the season on the
disabled list), Washington staggered to a 2--9 start. Attendance was down 4,395
per game from last year's debut season in Washington, new ownership and a cable
deal remained unresolved, and Bowden was arrested and charged with DUI last
week in Miami. "There hasn't been a boring day here yet," says first
baseman Matt LeCroy. "But any problems can be cured pretty quickly with