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Columnist
Cubs to Soriano: Break out or you sit out
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist

Alfonso Soriano

 

Associated Press

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Published: 4/12/2010 6:49 PM | Updated: 4/12/2010 6:49 PM

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It's possible that Alfonso Soriano could become one of the most expensive backups ever - or at the least a high-priced platoon player.

A Cubs source says Soriano has been put on notice that he must show something of value at the plate and in the field soon.

Or else.

It makes sense to anyone who watches that this move is necessary and probably overdue, but a week into the season, manager Lou Piniella is bending over backward to give Soriano another chance after a dreadful 2009.

Soriano managed a couple of soft singles Monday to raise his average to .200, but at 34 and looking older by each misplayed flyball, Soriano's $18 million a year for five more years might not matter because Piniella apparently intends to field the best team possible - veterans be darned - knowing this could be his final season.

Hopefully, Piniella won't show a lot of patience and goes straight to platoons wherever necessary, or simply replaces the guys who aren't hitting with those who are, like Xavier Nady, who's no more a liability without an arm than Soriano is without a glove.

And the difference is Nady can hit.

So after GM Jim Hendry said last week that money won't determine playing time, it appears Piniella has put Soriano on the clock.

Tick, tock.

Icy reception

During the home-opening pregame intros Monday at Wrigley Field, Cub fans let Soriano have it right away, while also booing John Grabow, Jeff Samardzija and Esmailin Caridad.

Soriano did get some cheers, that of the sarcastic variety when he camped under a high fly in the first inning and managed to catch it without incident.

He was booed again after a weak groundout to third his first time up, though he did manage a two-out bloop to left in the third that kept the inning alive for Jeff Baker's 2-run homer, and an infield single in the fourth.

When Soriano failed to get out of the box quickly on a dropped third strike in the sixth and was easily thrown out at first to end in the inning, he was booed yet again and then mercifully removed from the premises for defensive purposes.

Said Piniella, "We're going to be doing that for awhile."

Meaning, forever.

Much needed

Pitching for the first time since a wretched outing Opening Day in Atlanta, Jeff Samardzija threw a perfect eighth inning Monday in a 9-5 contest.

"It's time to put development aside," said GM Jim Hendry. "We need Jeff to be here and help the big league team."

Samardzija lowered his ERA from 108.00 to 27.00 with a single good inning.

"I felt great today, but I felt great in the first one, too. I was just a little strong and overexcited," said Samardzija, who was all smiles postgame. "It's actually been a great learning experience for me the last week to get myself ready mentally every day whether you think you're going to pitch or not, because you never know when the call is going to come."

New Lou?

During the Cubs' 5-run third inning Monday, Piniella put on the hit-and-run on 3-2 counts a couple times with two on and one out, leading to a double steal for Marlon Byrd and Derrek Lee when Aramis Ramirez struck out. Xavier Nady followed with a 3-run bomb.

With 4 stolen bases Monday, the Cubs have 5 in 7 games after collecting just 56 in 2009, good for dead last in all of baseball.

Best stat

Cubs starting pitchers since Opening Day: 6 outings, 6 times leaving the game with the lead, 372/3 innings, and a 2.39 ERA.

Next best stat

The Cubs' 9 runs Monday were all scored with two outs, 7 of them coming on 3 home runs.

Sight seen

Before the top of the second, a cardboard "W" sign fell onto the field, and after several failed attempts to throw it back into the bleachers, Marlon Byrd gave it to reliever James Russell, having given up on the W.

That's a feeling Cubs fans know too well.

First fight

Top of the seventh in center field, a few rows in front of the scoreboard, one guy in a Santo jersey throwing absolute haymakers over a security guard at a guy in a 17 jersey. Several patrons were escorted from the yard.

Best line

Member of the Cubs staff moments before the game began: "You know how you can tell things aren't going well? When you're down 2-0 during the Pledge of Allegiance."

Best quote

Xavier Nady, on the Ricketts family providing a nicer clubhouse and some new amenities: "Most important, they gave us a good team to run out there every day."

And finally ...

Lou Piniella, when asked if the Ricketts family helped spur the Cubs to victory Monday: "Well, I don't think they got any basehits."

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.