OAKLAND, Calif. – Still wearing sunglasses, Alfonso Soriano wheeled his suitcase into Oakland Coliseum’s visiting clubhouse on Thursday morning. He had that big smile on his face. He yelled out to the room and began talking to people in English and Spanish.
Soriano stopped at his locker and walked halfway across the room to take a look at the lineup sheet taped onto the white erase board: “Oh, left field? Yes!”
Soriano has already make it known: His first preference is to play all nine innings every day. He’d rather not be a designated hitter, except for maybe a few interleague games. But this West Coast trip again showed that he has a knack for it.
The Cubs hope Soriano is getting hot at the right time.
“You can count on it happening, for sure,” pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. “You never really know when, but 'Sori' is what he is because he hits. He wakes up out of bed and he hits. When he gets going, look out.
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“The crazy thing is his numbers are still pretty good and he really hasn’t been hitting that many home runs. So think about when he gets going, how big of a difference that’s going to be.”
Soriano certainly looks like he could be a difference-maker in the American League. He is now hitting .384 with nine homers, 25 RBI and a 1.202 OPS in 29 career games as a DH.
Soriano likes to say that he’s been hearing the same trade rumors for years and nothing ever happens. It has gotten ridiculous.
When Curtis Granderson’s hit by a pitch in spring training and fractures his forearm, Twitter instantly catches fire with speculation and Soriano gets asked whether or not he’d approve a trade to the New York Yankees.
There will be more questions as the Cubs continue their fire sale this summer.
“The front office, they know what they’re doing,” Soriano said. “They do what’s best for the organization.”
The $136 million man is 37 years old and has only a season-and-a-half remaining on his mega-deal. He went 10-for-30 on this road trip with three homers and nine RBI. That push has raised his overall numbers to .257 with 10 homers and 39 RBI.
“I’m feeling good now. I’ve just been fighting, trying to find out my swing every day,” Soriano said. “It took me a little longer than it used to, but it’s never too late. Now I’m feeling comfortable at the home plate and I found my swing.”
At some point, Soriano will need to have “The Talk” with team president Theo Epstein. Whether the perfect trade scenario somehow presents itself, or the Cubs want to take a look at other outfielders, it could get awkward.
This road trip started in Milwaukee, where Soriano got two days off. It continued in Seattle, where manager Dale Sveum hinted the seven-time All-Star could have a reduced role when David DeJesus (shoulder) gets healthy, so the Cubs could get better looks at Ryan Sweeney and Brian Bogusevic.
Then the same day Sweeney broke a rib crashing into the Safeco Field wall, Soriano delivered a game-winning, two-run homer in the 11th inning of a 5-3 win over the Mariners.
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“It always depends on how the player is producing,” Epstein said the day after. “When players are playing well, it’s always easy to manage that type of situation. And then when there’s lesser performance, other factors creep in. But (Soriano’s) somebody if you look at the last year-and-a-half as a whole, he’s performed.
“Obviously, this year hasn’t been at the level of last year. But I think you guys are aware that he’s the type of player that could get really hot in a hurry and the light could go on.
“We just lost two outfielders to injury and he’s a guy who works really hard to keep himself healthy and keep himself in the lineup. Given our situation right now, he’s going to be in there. Let’s hope that beautiful swing he took (gets) him really hot and locked in.”
In Oakland, Soriano blasted his 382nd career home run, which tied him with Frank Howard and Jim Rice for 61st on the all-time list. It was also No. 174 in a Cubs uniform, or as many as Andre Dawson hit for the franchise during his Hall of Fame career.
With two runners on in the ninth inning on Thursday, Soriano lost the battle against A’s closer Grant Balfour and flew out to right field to end the game. He ripped at his batting gloves and screamed at himself after a 1-0 loss and walked back toward the dugout.
This hasn’t been an easy season for a player with a lot of pride, but he always enters the room with the same outlook.
“It’s very tough, but we never give up,” Soriano said. “We got to come back tomorrow because tomorrow’s another day. The only way we can change it is to come back tomorrow and play a little harder and try to win the (next) game.”