- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

Although All-Star outfielder Alfonso Soriano has publicly expressed his desire to stay in Washington, the Nationals front office has had little to say about his future as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.

Soriano, 30, will become a free agent at the end of the season and has not ruled out signing a contract during this season. But a .274 batting average, 26 home runs and 55 RBI make Soriano an attractive trade candidate for many teams.

After a spring training filled with controversy over whether he would play second base (his original position) or left field (where the Nationals wanted to move him), Soriano has made his feelings clear.

“I’ve said it before, I like the team because it’s a good town and I’m happy,” Soriano said before yesterday’s win over the Florida Marlins. “They want to build a new ballpark and I want to be a part of this group.”

But Soriano’s agent, Diego Bentz, said he has received no offers from Nationals officials.

Neither incoming team president Stan Kasten nor general manager Jim Bowden would comment specifically about Soriano’s status.

But Kasten said he was thrilled about Soriano’s Washington-first attitude.

“It’s the best news we could have,” Kasten said. “It’s fantastic because it is the first of what I’m sure will be many, many signals that players are understanding what we’re doing here. We are trying to build a team and franchise that is a marquee franchise. … So it’s delightful and very encouraging that a player of such prominence not only is happy here, but would love to stay here. I hope that reflects the views of not just every player in the locker room, but also many others throughout baseball.”

Escobar rejoins club

The Nationals made some last-minute roster moves before yesterday’s game. They activated outfielder Alex Escobar from the 15-day disabled list and sent pitcher Mike O’Connor to Class AAA New Orleans.

O’Connor was pulled in the second inning of Wednesday’s 18-9 loss to the Marlins after giving up five runs on four hits, including back-to-back home runs. O’Connor is 3-6 with a 4.32 ERA in 14 starts.

He could return to the club as early as July 17, which would have been his first start after the All-Star break anyway. O’Connor is scheduled to make at least one start during his stint with the Zephyrs.

“It’s not because of his performance, not because he got knocked out,” Bowden said. “It had nothing to do with that. Zero to do with that. We just wanted him to keep pitching so he is sharp when we start the second half.”

Escobar was on the DL with a left hamstring strain. During his 10-game rehab assignment split between Class AA Harrisburg and the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Nationals, he batted .314 with one homer and eight RBI. Yesterday he went 1-for-3 with a triple and two walks after replacing Marlon Anderson in center field.

Guillen dinged

After missing Wednesday’s game with elbow soreness, right fielder Jose Guillen left yesterday’s game in the top of the 11th inning.

Robinson said he sensed the elbow was bothering Guillen so he pulled him in case a runner got on base.

“I didn’t want to take any chances of a ball hit in the gap and him not being able to make a strong throw,” Robinson said.

Similarly, Anderson left the game in the third inning because of a nagging rib injury that has prevented him from throwing and hitting at his full potential. His official status is day-to-day, but Robinson said Escobar will start in his place today.

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