Soriano relents, heads to leftfield

By wire services
Published March 23, 2006

JUPITER - Alfonso Soriano's only chance in leftfield Wednesday was a reminder of the good old days, before the Nationals finally persuaded him to change positions.

Soriano jogged in a few steps to catch a routine fly ball by Albert Pujols, then threw to second base to double off David Eckstein.

"I never think I'm going to make a double play in the outfield," Soriano said. "But I did it."

Soriano agreed to move from second base two days after refusing to take his new spot in the outfield. The Nationals had a day off Tuesday, giving him time to accept the switch.

"It's a relief for everybody, it really is," manager Frank Robinson said before the game. "We get the distractions away from here, and we can focus on baseball now and getting this ballclub tuned up and ready to go for opening day."

Robinson had Soriano batting leadoff in leftfield on his lineup card several hours before game time, and the player was all smiles during batting practice. He signed several autographs.

Soriano was an AL All-Star the past four years at second base and played there this spring for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. He has never played the outfield in a major-league game and said the last time he played there in spring training was in 2001.

The Nationals got Soriano in a December trade with Texas for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and minor-league pitcher Armando Galarraga. General manager Jim Bowden and Robinson have been trying to persuade Soriano to switch positions since. Washington has an established second baseman, three-time All-Star Jose Vidro.

Robinson considers the position move permanent, saying he doesn't view Soriano as even a backup at second base.

After the game, Soriano was not arguing.

"I have no choice," he said. "I love the game. I hope I stay healthy and I hope they play me there every day because I love the game."

ALL-STAR GAME: The Kansas City Royals will host the game between 2010 and 2014, pending voter approval of funding for stadium improvements.

The Royals and the NFL's Chiefs signed 25-year leases in January to stay at Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium. Voters in Jackson County, Mo., will decide April 4 whether to approve two sales tax issues to fund $575-million in work on the stadiums, which sit next to each other.

A'S: DH Frank Thomas, recovering from a broken left ankle, is scheduled to hit against three major-league pitchers today. Thomas has taken 22 at-bats against minor-league pitching the past three days.

CARDINALS: Right-hander Sidney Ponson earned the fifth starting spot when right-hander Anthony Reyes, one of the team's top prospects, was optioned to Triple-A Memphis. Ponson signed a $1-million contract after being released by the Orioles in September because of alcohol-related problems.

GIANTS: Survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake will throw out the first pitches before the April 6 home opener against the Braves. The centenarians will be escorted to the mound by a player or coach, who will receive the throws. ... Steve Nash, the Phoenix Suns point guard and last season's NBA MVP, took batting practice and played catch in the outfield. Nash was a guest of outfielder Randy Winn, the former Devil Ray who is his longtime friend and college basketball teammate at Santa Clara.

METS: Ace right-hander Pedro Martinez expects to miss opening day because of a nagging toe injury. The three-time Cy Young Award winner has not pitched in a spring game because of a sore right big toe and doesn't think he will be ready for the April 3 opener.

ORIOLES: Manager Sam Perlozzo said Javy Lopez, who has been playing first base, would catch for the first time this spring today against Washington.