Some Question Soriano's Effort

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 27, 2006

VIERA, Fla., March 26 -- Alfonso Soriano, the Washington Nationals' left fielder, had a line drive sail over him in the top of the first inning Sunday, then hit the first pitch he saw well over the left field fence in the bottom of the inning, a preview of the give and take he might provide all season. Yet he provided the performance against an uneasy backdrop, for some members of the organization don't think he's working hard enough to improve in the outfield.

Jose Guillen, the Nationals' right fielder, launched a pair of two-run homers, his first of the spring, then provided two bits of news afterward: He might not be healthy enough to play on Opening Day, and he wants his proposed contract extension to be completed before the season. If it's not done, he reiterated that he would break off negotiations with the club.

Thus, the Nationals' spring training entered its final week, and, as one front-office member said, "What's the next drama going to be?"

"This has been the oddest spring training I've ever been associated with," Manager Frank Robinson said.

So, why not an odd beginning to the final week? Start with Soriano. When the erstwhile second baseman reluctantly agreed earlier in the week to move to the outfield, the Nationals pledged to work with him so he could learn the position in a condensed period of time. Yet on a cool, breezy Sunday morning, Soriano took some fly balls off the fungo bat of special assistant Jose Cardenal, then took batting practice, then slipped inside the clubhouse. Cardenal, though, feels he should stay on the field to shag flies so he can better learn to read balls coming off the bat.

"I cannot force him to do anything that he don't want to do," Cardenal said. "It's up to him. I only can tell him, 'Just go and do this, do that, for your own good. Then you can become a better outfielder.' But if you don't want to do it, I can't put a rifle to him and say, 'Do it.' Sometimes, you have to know how hungry you are."

The point was emphasized in the first inning of what became a 13-6 victory over the Houston Astros. Lance Berkman sent a line drive to left that Soriano tracked poorly. He eventually leaped, but the ball sailed over him and turned into a run-scoring double.

"I see the contact," Soriano said. "But after awhile, when the ball left the infield, I lost it a little bit."

It is instances like that that make Cardenal, who was a major league outfielder for 18 seasons, believe that every opportunity to work is important.

"I can give him 1,000 fungoes, and it's not going to be the same," Cardenal said. "Fungoes are only to loosen you up. He needs to see the way the ball comes off the bat during the game. Get the angles, see fly balls and grounders."

Before the game Sunday, Soriano said he would work more in the outfield Monday, when the Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter.

"Maybe tomorrow I see the ball off the bat during BP," he said. "I take it one day at a time."

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