Notes: Soriano working hard for Nats

Nats notes: Soriano working hard

WASHINGTON -- General manager Jim Bowden said he knew that Alfonso Soriano was going to hit home runs and steal bases, but what has impressed the GM the most is Soriano's work ethic. Bowden called Soriano the hardest working player on the Nationals.

"This guy works harder every game, physically, he will study every single pitcher on video as much as he does," Bowden said. "And when the game is over, Soriano goes through another ridiculous workout. I've never seen a player work harder in my life -- before a game or after a game or during a game. He'll go watch video during a game. This guy is obsessed with being the best player that he can be. His teammates love him. Our reports were not to that extreme on him."

To prove Bowden's point: Soriano looked at video before Sunday's game and noticed that Orioles starter Bruce Chen had a slow delivery. Soriano promptly stole second and third in the first inning.

"I never steal the base off the catcher. I steal off the pitcher. I had a great jump at the pitcher. I'm not worried about who's catching," Soriano said.

Bowden also said that Soriano has gone beyond his expectation in terms of playing left field. Bowden thought that Soriano, who leads the National League in assists with seven, would play the outfield like Kevin Mitchell, who was known to make a lot of mistakes. Mitchell worked for Bowden when both were with the Reds.

"If the ball is in the air, Soriano goes back pretty good -- left, right. The only thing he hasn't really mastered is coming in for the ball and his arm angle is not up," Bowden said.

Soriano is a free agent after the season and Bowden said it's too early to talk about a contract extension with Soriano and his agent, Fernando Cuza. Bowden said it would be best to wait until the Lerner group officially takes over the club to talk about such matters.

Some in the Nationals organization have been talking about building around Ryan Zimmerman, but Zimmerman said that it's very important that Soriano stays with the team beyond 2006.

"Everybody on the team likes him. He is a very versatile player. He gets on base, he steals bases, he can do whatever you want. I think he's very important for the future of our franchise," Zimmerman said. "He really cares about playing the game and paying everyday."

Soriano is also making players like teammate Jose Guillen look silly when it comes to the dimensions at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. While the right fielder is often complaining about how the stadium is too big, Soriano continues to belt home runs. He has eight at RFK and leads the team with 15 home runs and 30 RBIs.

"I have a very strong [mentality]. I'm always working hard. I try to make a very good swing and very good contact," Soriano said.

Who knew? Entering Spring Training, the big question marks for the Nationals were if Tony Armas Jr., who was coming off shoulder surgery, could be the third starter in the rotation for the Nationals, if second baseman Jose Vidro could get over his knee problems and if Soriano could play left field. Those questions were answered in a positive manner, but disaster struck the Nationals in other areas, according to Bowden.

"We had Luis Ayala blow his arm out. We had Chad Cordero and Gary Majewski never recuperated from the World Baseball Classic. Livan Hernandez and John Patterson have two wins between them. Disaster hit," Bowden said.

Bowden forgot to mention that four of their starters -- Patterson, Ryan Drese, Pedro Astacio and Brian Lawrence -- are on the disabled list and the Nationals have lost a combined 280 games to injuries this season.

Washington also has players who are not playing up to their capabilities. Position players such as Royce Clayton, Jose Guillen, Damian Jackson and Brian Schneider aren't doing much with the bat, while pitchers Joey Eischen, Felix Rodriguez and Ramon Ortiz have had a tough time getting hitters out.

Think before you act: Team president Tony Tavares, who will leave the team once the Lerner group takes over, told that the Nationals are not limited to make changes to the roster, he wants to make the moves that make economical sense.

Some members of the think tank wanted to make drastic moves like releasing a handful of veteran players but Tavares prevented it from happening. If those players are released, the Nats would pay the rest of their salary and pay the salary of the Minor Leaguers they would call up.

"There's prudence being exercised right now. We are paying a lot of money to players on a losing franchise [in terms of wining percentage]. Honestly, we have to start having people perform on a different level," Tavares said. "While emotions can sometime get the better of us all, just making wholesale changes at the moment is going to create a financial impact. Then the question is, why are you throwing good money after bad at that point and time? Everybody is settling down. We made a move. Ryan Church is not performing and you brought somebody up. Making whole sale changes maybe an emotional knee jerk. My job is to manage everybody's expectations."

Take a break: First baseman Nick Johnson was given the day off after going 1-for-12 in his last four games.

"I can't get the pitches I want. If I do, they are middle away. I foul a lot of balls back. I can't get my hands to work." Johnson said.

Johnson said he tries to get out of the slump by hitting in the cage and getting his hands and feet in the proper place while in the batter's box.

Outfield play: After misplaying a single off Chen in the second inning, center fielder Alex Escobar was told by manager Frank Robinson that he was playing too deep. The skipper told him that when a ball is hit to keep his body low and don't go back. If Escobar went back on a ball, he would misjudge it and then have to come in and try to make a shoe string catch.

Escobar acknowledged that that background at RFK Stadium is giving him problems as far as picking up the balls.

"I'm getting use to picking up the ball. I'll get better at it," Escobar said.

This and That: Escobar wore the wrong cap during the first four innings of Sunday's game. Instead of wearing the cap with the DC logo, Escobar wore the one with the curly W. A clubhouse attendant informed Escobar of the mix up. ... Outfielder Jose Guillen believes that he will be ready to start against the Astros on Monday, according to Robinson. Guillen has missed the four games because of a right hamstring strain. ... John Patterson, on the disabled list because of a right forearm strain, threw 45 pitches in a bullpen session on Sunday. He threw nothing but fastballs and didn't feel any pain. On Saturday, he threw his breaking pitches on flat ground without any problems. ... After Sunday's Major League game, the Potomac Nationals played the Class-A Salem at RFK.

Quote of the day: "Next question." -- Manager Frank Robinson's response on Wiki Gonzalez's performance behind the plate

Send in your questions: The Nationals mailbag runs every Monday. Send in your questions now.

Stat of the day: Entering Sunday's action, opponents have hit two home runs against the Nationals starters in their last 82 innings.

Did you know? Soriano leads the Major Leagues in leadoff home runs with nine.

Coming up: The Nationals begin a four-game series against Astros starting Monday night at RFK. The last time these two clubs met was in early April with Houston taking three out of four games at Minute Maid Park.

In Game 1, Right-hander Zach Day (2-4, 5.94 ERA) will get the start for Washington, while left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (5-2, 3.81 ERA) gets the nod for Houston.

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