If healthy, Soriano believes he will keep producing

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If healthy, Soriano believes he will keep producing

Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010
8:14 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

WASHINGTON Alfonso Soriano is 34 years old in a game that is emphasizing youth, with a contract that runs through 2014, a 136 million investment leftover from a different economic climate and ownership structure.

For Soriano, the calculus is simple: If the Cubs play well, hell be cheered. If not, he gets booed. Fifty-fifty, he likes to say nothing personal, just the way it is at Wrigley Field.

Soriano also clings to this basic idea: If he is healthy, he will produce. He is 11-plus months removed from the arthroscopic knee surgery that ended his 2009 season after 117 games.

Occasionally the left knee feels weak, but the Cubs outfielder has experienced no significant pain this year. And on Wednesday night in Washington he played his 118th game no one on the current roster outside of Marlon Byrd has appeared in more.

Soriano noticed how Byrd races across center field with maximum effort and thought: I can do that, too. Hes also been energized by 20-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro, a fellow native of the Dominican Republic he has mentored.

The night before Soriano took his time enjoying the flight of his three-run homer into the left-field seats at Nationals Park. It marked the ninth consecutive season he has hit at least 20 home runs. Among active players, only Alex Rodriguez (15 seasons), Albert Pujols (10), Adam Dunn (nine) and David Ortiz (nine) have been that consistent with their power numbers.

If Soriano continues to take care of his body, he thinks he can finish out his contract by putting together four more seasons of 20-plus homers.

No, I dont feel older, he said. I think Im in better shape this year than the last couple years.

The waiting area of the managers office inside the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park has a framed Soriano jersey and photo. It commemorates his 40-40 season in Washington, the one he used to sign an eight-year deal with the Cubs in November 2006.

Soriano clearly isnt the same player anymore. He led National League outfielders in assists with 19 in 2007, but has six so far this season, a total that still keeps him among the leaders in that category.

Before taking over as manager for Lou Piniella, Mike Quades responsibilities included working with the outfielders and Soriano in particular.

Look, given where his legs are now, Quade said, compared to where they (were) when he became a Cub, theres a huge difference. And so the ground he can or cant cover has changed quite a bit.

The arm is fine, but his ability to close on balls and do things that allowed him to throw people out that first year (has) changed. But hes taken it upon himself and he deserves a huge tip of the hat here because I think hes done a much better job this year.

In April, it looked like Piniella might be forced to turn Soriano into a six- or seven-inning player, one who would almost always require a defensive replacement late in close games.

Instead, hes hit with the third group during batting practice, so he can take balls off the bat from the first group. Then he tracks balls off the fungo bat of coach Ivan DeJesus during the second round.

You just got to work and theres no magical thing, Quade said. Hes made a commitment to it.

Soriano is absurdly wealthy, but he still maintains a child-like enthusiasm for the game. He would like to be in the lineup every day from April through October, but concedes that is no longer a reality.

I want to, he said, but to be honest, nobody can play 162 games in Chicago. There are too many day games. The body doesnt have time to recover.

The Cubs have absorbed several shocks to the system this month. Soriano took out his earrings, folded his arms across his chest and stood in a clubhouse that bears little resemblance to the one he first walked into.

Its not easy, man, he said. Its not easy to play the game. And when those things happen around the team, it makes it more difficult (after) Lou announced his retirement and all those trades. (I) hope the last five, six weeks left of the season we can play more relaxed, because its nothing new now. Well stay together (and) finish strong.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Kyle Hendricks is back, but Cubs will likely have to wait for their next shot at Yu Darvish

Kyle Hendricks is back, but Cubs will likely have to wait for their next shot at Yu Darvish

Within the first several weeks of the Theo Epstein administration, the Cubs finished second in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, though nowhere close to the $51.7 million the Texas Rangers bid for the exclusive rights to negotiate a six-year, $60 million deal with the Japanese superstar.

The Cubs will probably have to wait a few more months for their next shot at Darvish, who is “unlikely to move” before the July 31 trade deadline, a source monitoring the situation said Monday. Darvish means enough to the franchise’s bottom line as a box-office draw and magnet for corporate sponsors that the Rangers would be reluctant to trade a player with global appeal and potentially jeopardize that relationship heading into free agency this winter.

Beyond the possible impact on re-signing Darvish, that would also mean foreclosing on a season where Texas is only 2.5 games out of an American League wild-card spot, making this final week critical to the buy-or-sell decision.

The Cubs would obviously prefer to stay out of the rental market after shipping two top prospects to the White Sox in the Jose Quintana deal. Quintana’s reasonable contract – almost $31 million between next season and 2020 once two team options are picked up – creates financial flexibility for a free-agent megadeal (Darvish?) or the next big-time international player.

But the cost of doing business with the White Sox probably means the Cubs wouldn’t have the super-elite prospect to anchor a trade for Darvish, anyway. That would be another obstacle in any possible deal for Sonny Gray, with an AL source saying the New York Yankees are going hard after the Oakland A’s right-hander (and have a deeper farm system and a greater sense of urgency after missing on Quintana).

All that means Kyle Hendricks could function as the trade-deadline addition for the rotation, with the Cubs instead trying to shorten games and deepen their bullpen by July 31.

After spending more than six weeks on the disabled list, the Cubs activated Hendricks for the start of this week’s crosstown series, watching him pitch into the fifth inning of Monday’s 3-1 loss to a White Sox team that had lost nine straight games.

[Willson Contreras may be ‘the f------ Energizer Bunny,’ but Cubs still need to get another catcher before trade deadline]

Hendricks is a rhythm/feel pitcher who blossomed from an overlooked prospect in the Texas system into a piece in the buzzer-beater Ryan Dempster deal at the 2012 deadline into last year’s major-league ERA leader.

Hendricks clearly isn’t locked in yet. He gave up eight hits, but minimized the damage against the White Sox, allowing only one run while putting up five strikeouts against zero walks.

“He wasn’t as normal,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The velocity was still down a little bit. There was not a whole lot of difference between his pitches. He was not what you would call ‘on.’ He would be the first one to tell you that. He looked fine delivery-wise, but the ball just wasn’t coming out as normal.”

Hendricks described his fastball command as “terrible,” called his secondary pitches “OK” and ultimately came to this conclusion: “Health-wise, everything felt great, so we’ll take that. Just got to get back (to my routine).”

The biggest takeaway is Hendricks didn’t feel any lingering effects from the right hand tendinitis that was initially classified as a minor injury in early June. Meaning the Cubs (51-47) are just about at full strength and have another week left to upgrade the defending World Series champs.

Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?

Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?

The crosstown rivalry doesn't end on the diamond.

Both Cubs and White Sox fans are highly competitive when it comes to trivia, too. 

We found that out when we bounced around Wrigley Field to quiz North and South Siders in a special edition of "Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?" 

Watch the video above as we pitted fans against eachother for the chance to win a killer shirt.