Will Soriano run into walls for the Cubs?


Will Soriano run into walls for the Cubs?

Sunday, March, 6, 2011
Posted: 6:02 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney

MESA, Ariz. Alfonso Soriano hasnt felt this good since 2007, when he reported to Arizona with a new 136 million contract.

The Cubs knew that they would be getting diminishing returns by the end of the deal, and part of it was written off as a Tribune Co. indulgence before selling the team.

Halfway through that eight-year commitment, Soriano says he is completely healthy, free to concentrate on his swing and his defense and not nagging injuries. Hed even consider playing beyond 2014.

I said to myself just for my family (that I) want to play (out) this contract and thats it, Soriano said. Well see if my body feels good and I can play one or two more years (after that).

Sorianos oldest son is eight years old and the first consideration for him and his wife is where to send their kids to school, either keep them in the Dominican Republic or bring them to the United States.

That speaks to someone who does not view himself in decline. Soriano does not expect to be hanging onto a job, nor does he want to transition into being a designated hitter.

Last season marked the first time as a Cub that Soriano went the entire year without going on the disabled list. Its a spring-training clich to say that hes in great shape, but hes always been diligent about his conditioning.

Hes cut, manager Mike Quade said. Hes ready to go from Day 1.
Getting defensive

Everyone loves to go hit in the cage, but Soriano wasnt nearly as attentive to his defense. It is one reason why Cubs fans booed him last season during pregame introductions at the home opener.

We had to push him to really get him to work in the outfield, Quade said. Hell, I ran him into a wall and hurt him.

Quade pointed toward the RA Sushi advertisement in left field at HoHoKam Park and recalled the time Soriano injured his hand during one drill and was sidelined for a few Cactus League games in 2008.

When youre a young outfield coach for Lou (Piniella), youre going, Oh, man, now Im looking for work. Hes going to miss a week and I might miss the rest of the year.

Quade raised his arms into the air and joked: The good news is I survived.

So has Soriano, who needed to sharpen his defensive instincts out there after spending so much time around the middle infield.

I never thought he was afraid of the wall, Quade said. Its just getting comfortable in understanding judgment of the warning track.

In 2009 Soriano committed 11 errors in 117 games. Last year he had seven errors in 147 games. During that time, his Ultimate Zone Rating has gone from -3.1 to 5.2. It looks like hes covering more ground this spring. He wants to be a nine-inning player.

The left-field thing it was weird, pitcher Ryan Dempster said. He was always an infielder and everyones like, Oh, hes a bad leftfielder. Ok, well, he never played the outfield, so hes really, really been working hard at it. And hes gotten better.

Thats sometimes the things people dont see every day hes out there working on it and trying to get better.

Love of the game

Soriano doesnt have an innate sense around the left-field wall. But he does have a natural feel for the clubhouse, where he was spotted dancing the other day. He is not just cashing checks.

A smile on his face every day, Dempster said. He brings a great energy.

Last September Soriano sat by himself in the clubhouse in St. Louis, glued to the television watching MLB Network highlights while eating his postgame meal. He looked like a little kid, and maintains that kind of enthusiasm.

The passion for the game (doesnt) make me old, Soriano said. I know that (Im 35), but I dont feel like Im 35.

When I dont have that in me, its over. I think thats the most important thing right now for me I still love the game.

During the offseason Soriano worked out five times a week at the Cubs academy in the Dominican Republic. Those 16- and 17-year-old prospects kept him young. He brought their faraway dreams right up close.

You can boo him all you want, point out the speed hes lost and complain about all the money thats left on his contract. Soriano doesnt care he keeps it simple between the lines. That's what he tells them back home in the Dominican Republic.

I used to be like those guys, Soriano said. Now what I give to them is confidence. (I say) to them: The big leagues is the same game, nothing changes."

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

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As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”

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