- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

BOSTON — Washington Nationals fans aren’t the only ones who have come to appreciate Alfonso Soriano. The rest of the baseball world has also taken notice.

Soriano has moved into second among National League outfielders in All-Star balloting, putting him in line to start in the July 11 game at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.

According to the results released yesterday, Soriano has received 1,084,936 votes, trailing only Carlos Beltran (1,129,865) among NL outfielders.

His position is by no means safe, though. Jason Bay, Ken Griffey Jr. and Andruw Jones are all within 68,000 votes as balloting reaches its final stages.

Voting at major-league ballparks ends Saturday. The Nationals are on the road until then, so local fans’ only option is to vote online through June 29. The final results will be announced July 2.

The Nationals franchise hasn’t had a player start in the All-Star Game since Jose Vidro in 2002.

If Soriano were to finish in the top three, he would do so in his first season as an outfielder. The 30-year-old has generally exceeded expectations in left field, but last night he faced perhaps his toughest challenge to date.

Soriano made his Fenway Park outfield debut, playing underneath the Green Monster, the 37-foot-high wall that has tormented left fielders for nearly a century.

“I have to work a little bit more, because the wall is high and close,” he said before last night’s game against the Boston Red Sox. “I’ve never played on a field like this, so it’s very different.”

Soriano spent time working with first-base coach Davey Lopes during batting practice, testing various caroms off the wall.

“I don’t think he’ll have that much a problem with it,” Lopes said. “I mean, the balls over his head, all you’ve really got to do is turn around and the ball’s off the wall.”

Soriano had played plenty of games at Fenway before as a member of the New York Yankees, but all of those were as a second baseman.

DH decisions

Managing his first game this season in an American League park last night, Frank Robinson named Daryle Ward his designated hitter. Ward is a first baseman/outfielder who has provided some pop in recent weeks but isn’t a great fielder.

With Ward playing DH and Nick Johnson sidelined by a lower back strain, Robinson started Robert Fick at first base for only the second time this season. There were reasons behind that move, too. Fick is Washington’s No. 2 catcher, and Robinson didn’t want to use him as DH and risk losing the position if something happened to starting catcher Brian Schneider.

Robinson may use a different DH for each game of this series. Matt LeCroy is a strong possibility for tomorrow’s game against Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester. Robinson also may use Soriano at some point, though Soriano said he’d prefer not to.

Johnson still out

Johnson sat out his second straight game with the back injury, and it appears he won’t play in this series.

Johnson, who hurt himself swinging in the first inning of Friday night’s game at RFK Stadium, said he still feels pain when he makes certain movements. He’s hoping to be ready to return Friday against the Orioles.

“I just feel like he’s not quite there,” Robinson said. “Another day, or another two days, whatever it may take to get him 100 percent. We’ll wait. That’s the kind of thing that if he goes back out there, he could be out for weeks or months.”

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