Soriano goes to left field for Nationals

Soriano goes to left field for Nats

JUPITER, Fla. -- Alfonso Soriano decided to play left field in the Nationals' Spring Training game against the Cardinals on Wednesday afternoon, ending speculation that he could be put on the disqualified list if he didn't do so.

Soriano, who on Monday refused to take the field for a game against the Dodgers at Space Coast Stadium, told on Tuesday that he would think it over and talk about it with his agent and wife. After those discussions, Soriano changed his mind and has made a commitment to play the outfield for the rest of the season.

"My wife said [to] move forward and try to do the best that I can in left field," Soriano said. "I hope to stay healthy and [that] they play me every day."

Soriano was inserted into the leadoff spot and went 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored. The hit was a double in the top of the fourth inning off right-hander Jason Marquis. In the bottom of the inning, Soriano caught a shallow fly ball off the bat of Albert Pujols and doubled off David Eckstein at second base.

"It was very easy today because I had only a fly ball," Soriano said. "I have to practice every day and get comfortable every day."

The Nationals had threatened to request to Major League Baseball that Soriano, a second baseman during his five full Major League seasons, be placed on the disqualified list on Thursday morning had he refused to take the field for the game on Wednesday.

That would mean that Soriano would not earn his $10 million salary and lose service time. Soriano is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2006 season, and general manager Jim Bowden said Soriano would have lost his eligibility to look for employment elsewhere after the season if he lost service time.

Washington believed the Major League Baseball Players Association would have filed a grievance and would have taken the case to arbitration, but a team official said that Soriano didn't have a chance to win the case because there is nothing in his contract that states he plays a certain position.

"I think Alfonso thought it through and understood all the circumstances that were involved, as did the agent, Diego Bentz," Bowden said. "At the end of the day, Alfonso wanted to do what was best for the team. It's not his preference to play left field, but he has decided to make a personal sacrifice to help this franchise put the best team on the field, and that's what he is doing.

"Obviously, if we knew what his position was, we would not have traded for him. We took a risk, and that's part of life. We didn't think it would play out this way. It's unfortunate that it did. But do we think we have a better lineup after the trade than before? Yes."

Asked if the threat of being suspended and losing his money played a role in his decision to play the outfield, Soriano said: "It's not the money. It's about me, the love that I have for the game and the fans. It's more important for me to play the game. If I worried about the money, I would have taken the $50 million when [Bowden] asked to sign to stay in Washington."

It is believed that the Nationals offered Soriano a five-year, $50 million extension.

On Monday, Soriano informed the club that he wasn't playing outfield. The team told him that he could be placed on the disqualified list if he failed to do so. Soriano, who played most of March representing the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, was set to hit leadoff and play the outfield for the Nationals against the Dodgers. But when the players took the field, only eight ran to their positions.

Manager Frank Robinson then went to home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook and told him that a lineup change was going to be made. Brandon Watson, who was supposed to sit out the game, went to center field, while Ryan Church switched from center to left field.

Two days later, an angry Bentz said there was miscommunication between Soriano, Robinson and Bowden.

"Alfonso didn't refuse to play," Bentz said. "He will do anything that the manager says."

But a baseball official said Soriano was clear about everything Robinson and Bowden told him.

"Soriano said that he understood everything that was said in the meeting," the official said.

But on Wednesday, all parties put the controversy behind them. Soriano arrived at Space Coast Stadium around 7:30 a.m. ET. He was supposed to visit Robinson a half hour earlier, but Soriano overslept and said the two would talk once they arrive at Roger Dean Stadium.

Just before boarding the team bus, Soriano was asked by two media members if he was going to play. Soriano said he had not made a decision and was going to talk to his agent before making a decision.

But once he arrived at the Cardinals' facility, Soriano met with Robinson for a brief closed-door meeting. Soriano started the conversation by saying that he wanted to play, but Robinson wanted to hear Soriano say that he was willing to play left field. Soriano said yes.

Robinson then told his new outfielder that he didn't have to play because he still had to learn to play the position. The skipper suggested that Soriano work on his game in the outfield on Thursday morning and then start later in the day against the Orioles. But Soriano declined and said he wanted to play against the Cardinals.

"It's a relief for everybody. It really is," said Robinson. "We get the distractions away from here, and we can focus on baseball now and getting this ballclub tuned up and ready to go for Opening Day. I'm happy for Alfonso, and this organization. We want to add his offense to this ballclub, and now we have it officially, and we are ready to go."

After the conversation ended, Soriano needed an outfielder's glove, having brought only his infielder's mitts to camp, and teammate George Lombard loaned him one. After taking batting practice, Soriano shagged fly balls in left field. He then spent most of the game asking Church how to play certain hitters.

"I took it to mean that he wanted to learn," Church said. "If I was going to move around in the outfield, he wanted me to let him know."

The last time Soriano played the outfield was during the 2001 exhibition season, when he was with the Yankees. Jose Cardenal, a former outfielder and the special advisor to the general manager, will work with Soriano every morning for the rest of the exhibition season. Cardenal said it will not be easy for Soriano to make the adjustments.

"The first thing you have to do is see how he goes after balls. It's something new for him," Cardenal said. "People think catching a fly ball is easy. It's not. You are talking about line drives, fly balls, the wind, the wall behind him, who is running the bases and where he is going to throw the ball."

Soriano has 11 days to get ready for Opening Day, and he is unsure how he will handle being an outfielder. The Nationals are giving him the option of playing left or center field.

"I don't know," said Soriano, on whether he could adapt fairly easily. "I want to play the best that I can."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.