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Friday, July 10, 2009
Soriano's hard hitting can't break slump

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

Daily, he stands before his locker and responds to questions for which he has no answers.

If Alfonso Soriano could explain the most horrific slump of his career, he probably wouldn't be in one.

On Friday, coming off a two-day break -- Thursday's one scheduled, Wednesday's not -- Soriano had to clarify that he "understood" why Cubs manager Lou Piniella kept him out of the lineup on Wednesday after getting two hits the night before.

Soriano had been quoted as saying he was "mad" that he wasn't given a heads-up by Piniella before Wednesday.

"If he had told me [Tuesday], then I would come [Wednesday] ready to play," Soriano told the Tribune.

That kind of remark doesn't go over so well with Cubs fans who have already lost patience with the $136 million man.

And then he went out on Friday and did himself no favors by going 1-for-3 with a dropped fly ball that allowed a run to score in a dreadful four-run sixth that broke the game open for St. Louis in an 8-3 Cardinals victory.

As he has been doing lately -- not that it matters -- Soriano hit the ball hard. With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, the Cubs trailing 4-3, Derrek Lee perched at third and Aramis Ramirez on first , Soriano fouled off two pitches before hitting a 1-2 fastball directly to the left fielder for the final out.

Big boos greeted his next at-bat with two outs and bases empty in the eighth, when, with the Cubs trailing by five runs and the proverbial barn door closed, he stroked a double down the third-base line past a diving Joe Thurston.

The boos are fair and Soriano has acknowledged as much. But to overanalyze his every word serves no further purpose.

Take, for instance, his comments following Friday's loss.

"I'm very happy today," he said. "Especially because I hit the ball three times hard, so personally I am very happy but we lost the game."

Here's guessing that " very" and "happy" would probably not be the words he would choose in Spanish. But fans aren't likely to care. Nor will Soriano garner any sympathy for operating on a knee that undoubtedly is hampering both his fielding and his batting. But then, he's not looking for any.

"Sometimes you don't want to [be given a day off] but when they give it to me, I feel much better," he said before the game. "But it's more mental. I get relaxed because my body is always ready to play. I don't remember my last day with no pain. That's how it is with everybody."

Heading into his first All-Star break out of uniform in the last seven years is "very different for me, weird," he said. "But those three days should help me out a lot and I can come back in the second half with a new battery."

If all it took was a charged battery, Soriano would not be the only one grateful. He took the move from leadoff down to the No. 6 hole graciously and has, in fact, played better there (5-for-16,.313 going into Friday's game).

Being home with people who don't boo him next week can't hurt either.

"Every day when I come home," he said, "my two daughters always say, 'Daddy, did you hit a homer?' If I say 'no,' they say 'That's OK, we still love you.' They're the biggest fans that I have."

Soriano still remembers how it felt to be in a hot streak, though few Cubs fans can.

"I see the ball better and have a good swing so when I get that combination, I'm very happy and I hit the ball very hard," he said. "I just try to hit the ball in the perfect spot on the bat. When I get hot, it's like hitting BP [batting practice] in the game."

And whether his knee or his psyche will respond well to any future benchings, don't expect him to be any more diplomatic than he was last Wednesday.

"That's my job, I like to play the game," he tried to explain Friday . "If they say to me, 'Play basketball,' I don't want to because I don't know how to play basketball. But play baseball, that's what I like to do so I was very upset when they gave me a day off because I prepare myself to play every day. But at the same time, I understand and with the money they want to give me, they want hits and this weekend is very important."

Unfortunately for the Cubs, they have more concerns than Soriano's bat with Geovany Soto taking his .281 average to the disabled list Friday with a strain of his oblique muscle that is certain to keep him out of the lineup for at least a month.

Albert Pujols also looks to be a rather big concern the remainder of the series after his performance on Friday (a triple, home run and two RBIs).

"The way we played today [Friday], we're not supposed to play like that because we're professionals and I hope tomorrow we come with more energy and play better," Soriano said.

"If we don't win these games, it can be very ugly."

It already is.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.