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Yanks' Soriano easy to overlook in stacked lineup

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Earlier this month, a starting pitcher from the American League East was doing his own scouting reports of the division's powerful lineups. When the conversation turned to the Yankees, he rattled off the more troublesome names: Ellsbury, Gardner, Jeter, Beltran, McCann, Teixeira. Even Brian Roberts, if healthy.

Then he stopped.

"I feel like I'm forgetting somebody," the pitcher said.

When told that he had left out Alfonso Soriano, the guy who hit 34 home runs between the Cubs and Yankees last season, he laughed.

"Oh, wow," the pitcher said. "Soriano]... You got to be kidding me."

Yes, Soriano, the sometimes overlooked piece in the Yankees' $200-million puzzle. It's not very often an $18-million slugger gets lost in the couch cushions, especially when that player has 406 home runs, one fewer than Duke Snider and good enough for No. 51 on the all-time list.

But after the Yankees' spending frenzy this winter, and all the shiny new toys to ogle in the Bronx, who bothers to remember the biggest acquisition at last year's trading deadline? Soriano's Bronx homecoming came just in time for a team desperately in need of outfield help and he turned out to be a perfect fit -- swatting 17 homers in 58 games.

This year, however, the circumstances have changed. The Yankees made two expensive upgrades to their outfield and now Soriano is looking at full-time DH duty -- with spot starts in right when Carlos Beltran requires a breather.

At age 38, with diminished range, that sounds about right for a player entering his 16th major-league season. But it does create some lineup snafus for Joe Girardi, who has other regulars that presumably will need turns at DH.

Back in 2012, Jeter started 25 of his 150 games at DH as Girardi made a concerted effort to keep him rested. It's fair to assume that would be the minimum number of DH starts for Jeter this season -- unless he's not effective at the plate and Girardi prefers to sit him instead. From what we've seen so far from the Yankees' captain in spring training, it could be more of the latter.

If and when Jeter does DH, that would remove Soriano from the lineup -- or another outfielder from a productive group that is not accustomed to taking days off. Beltran, despite a history of bad knees, played no fewer than 145 games the past two seasons for the Cardinals, who didn't have the luxury of the DH.

Brett Gardner has averaged 140 games over four of the last five years and the Yankees are expecting close to 150 from Ellsbury, even if he hasn't made it that far since 2011, when he played 158 and finished second in the MVP voting.

Let's say Ellsbury remains upright for most of this season. That leaves Soriano to take a weekly bite or two out of Beltran's time in rightfield -- a position that he's never played in 1,908 games. Soriano has spent more time at shortstop (10 games) during his major-league career, and Wednesday was just his second start there of spring training.

His only chance came in the third inning, and on a very sunny afternoon at Champion Stadium, Soriano got a bad read on Andrelton Simmons' pop-up. He charged in, but then let it drop about a foot in front of from him.

"It was tough to see," Soriano said.

The ball does come off the bat differently from that vantage point and it takes some getting used to. Mercifully, rightfield is the easier of the two corners at Yankee Stadium. But he could experience a few awkward moments in unfamiliar territory, whether it's in the Bronx or elsewhere.

"We'll try to get him as many reps as we can," Girardi said after Wednesday's game. "He'll make the adjustment."

And not just in the outfield. Soriano's 13 starts at DH split between the Cubs and Yankees were the most he's ever had in one season. He could have close to 10 times that this year, but doesn't think it will be a problem.

"I'll figure out what to do," Soriano said. "As long as I'm staying in the lineup."

Where he's bound to get plenty of attention once the season starts.

 

-- Newsday

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 23, 2014 0

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