Power cloutage for DH Alfonso Soriano
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com June 8, 2012 11:40PM
Updated: July 10, 2012 6:11AM
MINNEAPOLIS — If this is Alfonso Soriano’s future, it’s no wonder he’s always wearing shades.
The Cubs’ 36-year-old left fielder with the balky knee settled into an unfamiliar role Friday and made himself at home in the American League again. As the designated hitter, he drilled two mammoth home runs, including only the third homer into the third deck in the 21/2-year history of Target Field.
Soriano, who also had an infield hit, wasn’t celebrating his big day after the Cubs lost for the 19th time in 23 games — on a second consecutive walk-off hit, this time a single by Minnesota’s Josh Willingham in the 10th inning to beat the Cubs 8-7.
Despite the loss, Soriano’s power surge — all 11 of his homers have come in the last 23 games — and his apparent comfort level in the DH role might be pushing his value just high enough to give the front office a chance to trade him by the July 31 deadline.
Counting the first-inning homer halfway up the center-field batter’s eye that was estimated at 431 feet and a 400-foot out in the fifth, Soriano hit more than 1,270 feet of fly balls in three of his at-bats.
Not that he particularly likes the DH, or that he wants to leave Chicago. But he has said for more than a year that he won’t let his no-trade rights stand in the way if the Cubs can find a taker for some of the $48 million left on his deal.
If that happens, his greatest value will be with an AL team that has the option of using him regularly as a DH over the next 21/2 years.
‘‘I love to play both games, defense and offense,’’ he said before the game. ‘‘To play DH, I have to say in my mind to play just one part of the game. My mind’s not there to do that yet.’’
Soriano, who’s getting the weekend break from playing the field to give his left knee a rest, isn’t ready to think about it as a career path even after his current contract expires following the 2014 season.
But after the game, he conceded, ‘‘The day that I had today, I like it. But I’ve got to do a lot of things to keep my body warm.’’
His future could be especially bright if his limited track record as a DH is any indication. His best numbers in any role come in that spot — 19-for-50 (.380) with five home runs and a .780 slugging percentage in 17 starts.
‘‘Not bad,’’ he said, apparently unaware of the lofty numbers.
Research indicates only Texas’ Nelson Cruz (last year) and Milwaukee’s Corey Hart (2010) had reached the third deck of Target Field before Soriano.
‘‘That’s OK,’’ he said with a smile.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who as a player and coach has been around such great DHs as Edgar Martinez, Paul Molitor and David Ortiz, said few hitters like the idea of taking on the role until they get accustomed to a personal routine.
He seemed to think Soriano might be able to do it.
‘‘It’s still hitting,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘It’s just a matter of what you’re doing in between those at-bats. If you can handle those things — the real good DHs are just the guys who have been doing it for a long time.’’
Soriano, whose first homer was the 350th of his career, said he might even adopt some of his pre-at-bat routine as a DH (10-15 swings in the cage to prep) when possible as a left fielder.
‘‘I think he took pretty well to the DH,’’ Sveum said.