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Quade open to pulling Soriano late

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

MESA, Ariz. — Cubs manager Mike Quade, who plans to make improved fielding a focus of camp this spring, said benching $18 million left fielder Alfonso Soriano in the late innings of close games could be a possibility this season, as it was early last season.

‘‘Look, he’s not running the way he did [earlier in his career], and it’s a thought,’’ said Quade, who stressed it’s not an issue he plans to consider this early in camp. ‘‘There’s a lot of stuff that goes into that. Let’s see how he comes in this year.’’

For now, Quade says, ‘‘I want him to come in here expecting to play nine innings every day and to get better and continue to work and be as good as he can defensively. Stay healthy and do that. When it’s time to play ballgames, we’ll figure out all that.’’

Soriano, who admittedly never worked especially hard at his outfield play until last season, forced former manager Lou Piniella’s hand just six games into last season with mistakes and a particularly costly error on the opening road trip. By the home opener, Piniella announced a new policy that Soriano, for defensive reasons, would be taken out when the Cubs led late in close games.

Soriano responded with extra work and noticeable, if not spectacular, improvement. And Piniella soon backed off the policy.

But just halfway through his $136 million contract, Soriano is 35 and not getting any faster or younger. And he figures to get a few more days off this season anyway as Quade manages what could be a four-man outfield rotation that also includes center fielder Marlon Byrd and versatile right fielders Kosuke Fukudome and Tyler Colvin.

With Soriano the weak link in that foursome (five, if non-roster veteran Reed Johnson sticks), the late-inning move could be a useful weapon.

The Cubs ranked 29th in fielding last season, and their 126 errors were one short of the major-league worst, shared by Washington and Pittsburgh.

Some say the Cubs’ fielding looked better during Quade’s six weeks at the helm to finish last season.

‘‘Whether that’s true or not, I was not satisfied, particularly with the inner-diamond defense — the entire year,’’ he said. ‘‘We need to get better, period.’’

Quade said that starts with shortstop Starlin Castro’s team-high 27 errors in just 125 games and with needed improvement from second baseman Blake DeWitt, improved throws from catcher Geovany Soto and better play at third base, which Quade says should come with good health for Aramis Ramirez.

‘‘Like most clubs, pitching and defense are going to be huge, and we’ve got some arms that we’re excited about,’’ Quade said. ‘‘But we’ve got to make plays behind them.’’


Manager Mike Quade said he expects new Gold Glove first baseman Carlos Pena to help Tyler Colvin and Jeff Baker get more comfortable at first as his backup.

† Coaching changes have left the Cubs without a specific catching instructor on the big-league staff, and Quade said that’s now his area. Matt Sinatro handled those duties the last four years.

† Today is the reporting date for position players, with the first official full-squad workouts slated for Saturday.

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