Posted on: March 6, 2012 7:06 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 11:00 am
MESA, Ariz. -- Ears perked up, perhaps, by new manager Dale Sveum discussing him as a potential cleanup man the other day, beleaguered Cubs veteran Alfonso Soriano sure looked the part Tuesday.
Granted, it was March 6. Yes, the Colorado Rockies essentially are holding tryouts for their rotation and Guillermo Moscoso and Zach Putnam won't remind anyone of Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson anytime soon. And true, making hasty spring training judgments is more dangerous than crossing the desert with no water.
On the flip side, when you've had your ears pinned back with boos while disappointing as much as Soriano has over the past couple of seasons ... maybe a little confidence boost can go a long way.
Batting fourth against the Rockies on Tuesday, Soriano absolutely crushed a Moscoso pitch in the second inning, drilling it off of the scoreboard behind the left-field seats. Then, after doubling against Alex White -- another Rockies' starting pitcher wannabe -- he ripped another homer, this one in the fifth against Putnam. He finished with three RBIs.
"Second game, and I'm starting to feel good with my swing and with my timing," Soriano said. "That made me feel good."
Normally, Soriano said, it takes him somewhere between 20 and 25 at-bats before he begins feeling good in the spring. So you might say he's already in mid-spring form.
"My goal is to have a lot of at-bats and feel comfortable at the plate," Soriano, who batted .244 with 26 homers and 88 RBI last season, said of the spring. "I want to show my teammates and show the Cubs that I'm here to play the game. It doesn't matter if I lead off, I'm here to do my job."
Soriano, a leadoff man in the past, lost that gig in 2009 under Lou Piniella. Slogging along at the plate for too long, Soriano mostly hit seventh (221 plate appearances) last year, with some sixth (186) and fifth (94) mixed in.
Aggressively shopped over the winter by new president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, and booed at the Cubs Convention over the winter, Soriano said he doesn't care where he hits in the lineup.
"Not really," he said. "I'm just preparing my mind. It doesn't matter to me if I lead off or hit fourth or fifth."
Wherever Sveum thinks he can best help the club, the affable Soriano said, he's happy to hit there.
Sveum has said he'd like to give rookie first baseman Bryan LaHair the opportunity to hit in the cleanup spot in the order. But right out of the gate, that would appear to be pushing it for a rookie. If Soriano can have a good spring and own the cleanup spot, that will take some of the heat off of LaHair as well as give the Cubs a boost.
Plus, the only way the Cubs likely will be able to trade him is if he gets off to a hot start, and a contender impressed with his April, May and June comes calling. Soriano has three years and $54 million remaining on his contract. The under-new-management Cubs have been so desperate to move him that sources say they will eat a significant portion of the contract if they can deal him.
This spring, though, Soriano, 36, will keep his blinders on and prepare for 2012.
He wants to get as many spring at-bats as he can.
"The more I take, the more I feel comfortable at home plate," he said. "If I can get 50, 60, 100 ... my goal is to be ready for opening day."
Last spring, he checked in with 64 at-bats.
This spring, if many more of them go as they did Tuesday, maybe Soriano can write a happy ending yet.
Sunblock day? Nice and hot, in the 80s, with a bright, warm sun and a cloudless, blue sky. Perfect spring training weather. And great convertible day.
Likes: Cool old huge photo of Ron Santo on the door greeting those entering the press box at the Cubs' HoHoKam Park. Very striking, and a great tribute. ... Looking forward to watching Yu Darvish's Cactus League debut Wednesday. ... Every time I visit Scottsdale Stadium, it's reinforced that it's the best thing going. ... Reminiscing about former major leaguers and legendary scouts Pat Dobson and Ted Uehlander with Giants general manager Brian Sabean. Each of those men, special assistants to Sabean before passing away, was a terrific baseball character, and it brightened your day to run into them. I miss seeing Dobber and Ted around the spring training trails. ... The fried calamari at the Italian Grotto in Scottsdale.
Dislikes: Freddy Sanchez, Giants' second baseman -- will he ever again be healthy enough to be the player many thought he would become? Discuss.
Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Hold tight to your anger
"And don't fall to your fears"
-- Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball
Posted on: March 18, 2010 11:43 am
MESA, Ariz. -- One of the Chicago Cubs' biggest additions will not step into the batter's box this season. Nor will he throw a pitch.
Nevertheless, the Cubs think new hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo's presence is felt in a big way.
One of the most respected hitting coaches in the game, Jaramillo comes to the Cubs after a 15-year run in Texas. During that time, hitters under Jaramillo's tutelage won 17 Silver Slugger awards, four Most Valuable Player awards and three RBI titles. He worked with such hitters as Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez and, yes, Alfonso Soriano during Soriano's two seasons with the Rangers (2004-2005).
Soriano, who dropped off the table offensively last season (.241, 20 homers, 55 RBI), is one reason the Cubs awarded Jaramillo, 59, a three-year, $2.4 million deal. The Cubs must get him going if they are to succeed in 2010.
So far, he's delivered a similar message here in the desert to what Soriano heard from him in Texas: Stay back on the ball. You see it longer that way. And load your power on your right (back) leg while preparing to spring forward with your swing.
"Same thing as when I play in Texas," Soriano says. "He tells me every day what I have to do. He reminds me, your power comes from your right side. It's like a teacher."
The best hitting coaches are exactly that, like an old teacher who had an exceptional way of making the complicated things seem simple.
From Jaramillo's perspective, new team and new league, he's mostly just trying to get the lay of the land this spring.
"I'm just still trying to win these guys over," he says. "I'm not trying to over-coach them. The key is to win their trust as we go. Situational hitting, two-strike approaches, things like that."
He knows all about the struggles last year of Geovany Soto (.218), Mike Fontenot (.236) and others. He knows Kosuke Fukudome hit just .259 last year after hitting .257 the year before, and how Piniella dreams of getting Fukudome up to the .280-.285 range.
"You've got to give him time," Piniella says. "He's basically familiarizing himself with all of the hitters. He's got a nice program going. We're pleased, we really are. But it's going to take him a little time."
Says general manager Jim Hendry: "I think Sori is going to benefit from Rudy. When you add a guy like Rudy, you're getting one of the best in the game."
"I still have a lot of learning to do," Jaramillo says. "Hitters, opposition parks ... that will come with time. I feel like I'm running out of time [with spring training down to just two weeks left], basically.
"But now, as they start sending some kids out [to the minors via roster cuts], I can focus one on one with some of our guys and try to win their trust."
Likes: Leadoff man Juan Pierre looks just as quick in a White Sox uniform as he did in every other uni he's worn. But how will the 10-year National League veteran (Rockies, Cubs, Marlins, Dodgers) take to the American League? "They've still gotta throw it over the plate," he says, smiling. "And the bases are still 90 feet apart." ... Douglas Thompson's biography of Clint Eastwood is an entertaining read, as you would expect from a book that's entitled Clint: The Biography of Cinema's Greatest Ever Star. One of the best anecdotes comes from the filming of A Perfect World, when Kevin Costner walked off the set when an extra kept flubbing his lines. Eastwood simply told Costner's double to step in and filmed that scene and another without the high-maintenance actor. To hear Thompson tell it, Costner was stunned -- and properly chagrined -- when he reappeared later and Eastwood essentially told him they moved on and that's not how you behave. ... A terrific tournament run came to an end (sigh) when the Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central Falcons were beaten in the Regional Championship of the Michigan High School boys' basketball tourney Wednesday by Napoleon 45-43.
Dislikes: How about the USA Today story Wednesday about pet funerals? Some folks are paying $2,000 or $3,000 for a casket, viewing and funeral for Fido. That's insane. Look, I dig my pets (two cats and a dog) as much as the next person, and my wife probably digs them even more than me. But I'd have her committed (and she me) over a suggestion to put out major bucks for an elaborate kitty funeral. People are nuts.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"And he yells, and he roars
-- Jason & the Scorchers, Moonshine Guy
Posted on: October 7, 2008 6:59 pm
Instead, broken-hearted fans are leaving flowers at a makeshift shrine at Wrigley Field, which has gone dark until next spring.
The NL Championship Series begins here Thursday evening, and while the Dodgers flew east, the Chicago Cubs, despite an NL-high 97 wins, have gone home for the winter.
And their outraged fans are still sputtering.
"I will never set foot in that ballpark again," wrote Brian P. Patke in a letter to the editor published in Tuesday's Chicago Tribune. "I have boxed up everything 'Cubs' that I own and will properly dispose of it in a Dumpster. To pass this collection of misery down to my kids would only be committing the same brutal punishment my father passed down to me.
"I don't believe in jinxes, hexes or curses, but I believe in wasteful spending of money (Alfonso Soriano), God-awful choke jobs and the lack of self-confidence that comes with the fear of losing."
This autumn's three-game sweep wasn't just your normal Cubs-variety flop.
No, this was a devastating defeat that will hang like a cement anchor on this franchise throughout the winter. General manager Jim Hendry must re-evaluate things from top to bottom, even after constructing a team that won more games than any Cubs club in 63 years:
-- Alfonso Soriano's inept performance during his two postseasons with the Cubs (3-for-28, eight strikeouts, no extra-base hits) at the very least suggests the Cubs need to find another leadoff hitter (resurrect those trade talks for Baltimore's Brian Roberts again this winter?) and slide Soriano down in the order. At worst, it may signal that the eight-year, $136 million deal -- Soriano just completed his second year -- was a mistake. In 44 lifetime postseason games dating back to his rookie year with the Yankees, Soriano is hitting .213 (37-for-174). October, which brings with it the game's best pitchers, is not a friendly time for undisciplined, free swingers. See Guerrero, Vladimir, over in the American League. Soriano's contract makes him virtually untradeable. At this point, the Cubs at least should investigate the possibilities.
-- Third baseman Aramis Ramirez is 2-for-23 with no RBIs during the past two Cubs offseasons. He looks as lost as Soriano.
-- Kosuke Fukudome, at three-years, $38 million, right now appears to have been a colossal mistake. The Cubs are going to have to look hard at him in spring training and early in the year and, maybe, swallow hard and eat the contract (or, at the very least, ship him to Triple-A Iowa and see if he can be salvaged).
-- The Cubs' culture must be changed. Manager Lou Piniella and the players deflected questions surrounding the curse and the 100-year drought since the club's last World Series title (1908) all season. Then club CEO Crane Kenney hauled out a priest to sprinkle holy water on the Cubs' dugout before Game 1 against the Dodgers. It was uncalled for, demeaning to those in uniform and an open invitation to further ridicule.
-- After the Cubs lost Game 1 to the Dodgers, second baseman Mark DeRosa called Game 2 a "do-or-die" game. Though manager Lou Piniella publicly disavowed that, privately, according to sources, he asked front office officials whether the roster could be changed (it can't, except in the case of injury, once a playoff series begins). Signs of panic were evident just one game into the postseason.
When normally placid first baseman Derrek Lee slammed his helmet to the ground in the fifth inning of Saturday's Game 3 loss, it seemed the universal signal of utter frustration and inability to do anything about it.
It's not unusual for players to become upset and slam helmets around.
It is unusual for it to happen in the fifth inning. Normally, that kind of behavior is reserved for the eighth or ninth inning.
Probably, it was an accumulation of frustration. Over the past two postseasons -- two three-game sweeps by Arizona and Los Angeles -- the Cubs have combined for a grand total of 12 runs.
"You have to score runs," Piniella said. "We had opportunities and you have to take advantage of them. This is six games I've managed now in the postseason (with the Cubs) and we have scored just 12 runs. That doesn't get it done. If you want to win a World Series or go deep into the postseason, you have to score runs."
Among other egregious transgressions, the wild-swinging Soriano not only swung at the first pitch of the game, he also swung at the first pitch after Dodgers manager Joe Torre summoned reliever Cory Wade with two Cubs aboard, one out and Chicago trailing 3-0 in the seventh inning of Game 3. That he didn't make the new pitcher at least throw a couple of pitches and make sure he had command of the strike zone was inexcusable.
The honeymoon long since had ended for Fukudome. At O'Hare airport on Friday morning following the Cubs' Game 2 loss, those in the United Airlines terminal heard an announcement come over the public address system: "Attention Kosuke Fukudome. Attention Kosuke Fukudome. Please report to the Cincinnati Reds. You've been traded for a player to be named later."
The honeymoon for everyone else pretty much had ended before the final pitch of Game 3 had even been thrown.
"So Long" read Sunday's headline in the Chicago Sun-Times.
"Wait 'till ... whatever" sighed the headline in the suburban Daily Herald.
Patke, the letter-writer Tuesday in the Tribune, was only getting warmed up.
"This type of misery deserves no more company of mine," he wrote. "With more than three million bozos showing up annually for the circus, I know I won't be missed one bit, but the feeling is truly mutual.
"Good riddance, Cubs. I wish I could say it's been fun, but that would be like saying multiple minor heart attacks are no big deal. Eventually you have to change your habits and evil ways to avoid a predictable and most certain premature death."
Posted on: April 4, 2008 11:19 pm
The season is only a few days old, but San Diego already is expecting a reinforcement in time for Saturday afternoon's game with Los Angeles. Center fielder Jim Edmonds, following a brief, two-game injury rehabilitation stint at Class A Lake Elsinore, will be activated and manager Bud Black hinted that he will be in the lineup.
Edmonds, who batted only .252 with 12 homers, 53 RBI and a career-low .325 on-base percentage last year in St. Louis, has been nursing a strained calf since early this spring. The Padres sent Edmonds to Lake Elsinore, about a two-hour drive north of San Diego, essentially for a two-game dress rehearsal. They wanted him to get some at-bats, run the bases and field in game conditions before turning him loose in Petco Park.
How Edmonds' early leg problems will play out undoubtedly will be one of the keys to San Diego's season. He's 38, and he's got a lot of ground to cover in one of the league's largest outfields.
Odd man out to make room for Edmonds? Outfielder Jody Gerut is expected to be optioned to Triple-A Portland. The other candidate would be Paul McAnulty, but he was hitting .455 entering Friday night's game and he's out of options. Plus, he's played his way into the Padres plans. For now, at least.
-- Strange to think about now, but there was a time this spring when new Los Angeles Angels outfielder Torii Hunter was concerned about starting the season in Minnesota. He really was afraid he was going to be the target of boos and catcalls after leaving the Twins as a free agent. Instead, he was exhausted leaving Minnesota for the Angels' home opener Friday night because of all of the attention he received.
The Twins presenting him with his Gold Glove award on the field before the second game of the series was a class move, as were the several standing ovations Hunter received. It hasn't always been that way in the Metrodome for Twins who have left. Let's just say Minnesotans are world class at distinguishing between the phony and the real (well, other than when they elected Jesse Ventura as governor).
-- Don't pay too much attention to that fancy save Miguel Batista picked up for Seattle in closer J.J. Putz's absence the other day. Not to disrespect something the Mariners really needed after losing Putz to the 15-day disabled list, but it essentially was like throwing on the side in between starts for Batista.
Because he will not be removed from the rotation: He's still on schedule to start Saturday's game against Baltimore. Batista closed for Toronto in 2005, but while Putz recovers from a rib cage strain, right-handers Mark Lowe and Sean Green and lefty Eric O'Flaherty will share the eighth and ninth innings.
-- Did you see Alfonso Soriano flip back to second base in the ninth inning Friday against Houston? For one inning, and it figured: First ball in play is a grounder to Soriano, who hadn't played second in two years. He fielded it cleanly, after which he flashed a wide grin. He wound up with two assists in the inning -- two of the three Astros to bat grounded to him.
-- Was going to be in Anaheim for the Angels' home opener Friday night against Texas, but Kenny G was going to play the national anthem and Kenny G is just something I can't stomach. See you soon, Angels.