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50-plus homers? Cubs’ Alfonso Soriano on pace

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

DENVER — Could this be the year Alfonso Soriano not only plays 150 games or more for the Cubs but also puts up some of the big numbers that his 40 home runs/40 stolen bases history and $136 million contract promised four years ago?

Batting from the lower part of the order, Soriano has quietly led the team in homers, RBI and slugging percentage, even without going on one of his patented torrid hitting streaks.

The stolen-bases side of his 40-40 history is long gone, but the early going this season could be a glimpse of power and run production to come.

Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said he sees renewed confidence in Soriano and improved lower-half hitting mechanics that are allowing him to be in a better hitting position sooner and to see the ball longer.

That’s one of the reasons Soriano is second on the team with nearly four pitches per plate appearance (3.88) and is hitting more balls to the middle and the other way.

He gave the Cubs an early lead Saturday night in Colorado with a run-scoring double to the left-field gap, then followed with a solo homer to deep right in the sixth.

‘‘I feel totally different than last year, especially because I’m not worried about my knee,’’ Soriano said.

He’s 19 months removed from meniscus surgery.

‘‘I feel stronger,’’ said Soriano, 35, who put on noticeable upper-body muscle since last season. ‘‘And I’m seeing the ball better and swinging at strikes. That’s the key.’’

He didn’t hit his fifth homer or drive in his 12th RBI until May last season.

And largely because of injuries, his game totals in four seasons with the Cubs have been 135, 109, 117 and 147. He has said more than once that his 24 homers in 496 at-bats last year make him optimistic he’ll have a big power year if he can get closer to 550 at-bats.

At his current pace, 550 at-bats would produce 53 homers.

Meanwhile, manager Mike Quade says he’s open to considering a move up the batting order, depending on how Soriano’s season progresses.

‘‘That doesn’t matter for me,’’ Soriano said. ‘‘The most important thing for me is I want to be in the lineup — 5-6-7, doesn’t matter to me. I just want to do something to help the team win.’’

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