Soriano feels need for speed
Star reports to camp early, ready to improve running ability
MESA, Ariz. -- Alfonso Soriano is hoping his legs let him get back on track to steal 40-something bases.
Soriano has stolen 40 bases three times in his career and swiped at least 30 two other seasons, but last year, his first with the Cubs, he totaled 19 steals. He arrived early on Sunday -- position players don't have to report until Monday -- and started workouts right away. Can he steal 40 again?
"I don't know yet," Soriano said. "I have to see how I feel with my legs. If I feel good, 100 percent, then I can start running again."
Soriano missed time in April because of a strained left hamstring, and in early August, strained his right quad rounding second base, which put him on the disabled list. This winter, the Cubs wanted him to rest and not run full speed, instructing him to keep it at "75 percent." Cubs strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss visited Soriano in the Dominican Republic to go over his routine.
"In my time off, I didn't do much," Soriano said about his offseason. "I was just running to see how I feel. I know my legs are good, so now I have to work a little harder to get ready for the season."
He'd prefer to stay in the leadoff spot, and if he can steal more, it would help the Cubs.
"I like to steal bases, I like to run," Soriano said. "It's important for me to steal bases. It's not a problem for me. If I'm 100 percent, I'll steal bases. I like batting leadoff. If Lou [Piniella] thinks batting third or fifth in the lineup is better for the team, it's not a problem."
Where Soriano hits in the order is a question debated by Cubs fans all season.
"We'll get into that soon enough," Piniella said Sunday. "Everybody's a manager."
Soriano's numbers would make him appear to be a better fit lower in the order.
"Basically, you see a young man who hits 35 or 40 home runs, and you associate 35 or 40 home runs with the [Nos.] 3, 4, 5, 6 spot in the lineup," Piniella said. "It makes sense, it really does [to bat him lower]. He's had a lot of success out of the leadoff hole, and he got that contract that he got out of the leadoff hole."
Piniella will likely be asked about Soriano's status as the leadoff man a few more times this spring.
"Last year, he didn't run nearly as much, especially in the second half of the year with the leg problem," Piniella said. "You look at the year he put together for the Nationals, home run-wise and stolen base-wise and RBI-wise, and those were pretty good numbers out of the one hole. We'll keep talking about this and having a little fun with it, but we'll do the right thing, what's best for the baseball team and what's best for the players."
When Soriano was in the leadoff spot last season, he batted .308 with 33 homers and 69 RBIs. When he hit third in seven games, he was 5-for-28 (.179).
Soriano said he's excited to get going.
"I think I had too much vacation," he said. "Now it's time to work."
Last spring, the Cubs moved Soriano to center, but that experiment lasted 12 games into the regular season. He was switched back to left, and that's where he'll stay.
"I think it will be a little easier this year," Soriano said. "It's my second year with the team, and I know I'm only going to play left field, so I want to have fun. I put it in my mind to have fun and just play."
He does have a new right fielder in Kosuke Fukudome. Soriano did play in Japan from 1995-97 for the Hiroshima team.
"[Fukudome] knows I played in Japan, and that I speak a little Japanese," Soriano said. "I think we can be very good friends on the team."
Can he still speak some Japanese?
"I forgot it, but I remembered some to speak with him," Soriano said. "Now that he's on the team, I'll speak a little more Japanese."
"He might be my second interpreter," Piniella said, jokingly.
If Soriano needs any reminders, the Cubs media relations department has a cheat sheet that has all the necessary phrases. Maybe Soriano could teach Fukudome some Spanish?
"Maybe, why not?" Soriano said. "He has to speak English because we're here in America."
While the language may be different, the game is the same, and Soriano didn't think Fukudome would need much time to make the adjustment.
"There's no difference," Soriano said. "It's the same ball, the same game. He has to concentrate and learn the league, but it's the same ball they throw to home plate."
Wrigley Field has changed a little since last season. The outfield has been leveled, and the warning track expanded by three feet which should give Soriano more of a heads up before he crashes into the brick wall. He got a sneak peek at the changes in January.
His $136 million deal with the Cubs, which he signed in December 2006, won't be a hot topic this year.
"I feel more relaxed, more comfortable," Soriano said. "My contract is in the past. I just have to play the game and have fun."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.