- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2006

MILWAUKEE — If the Washington Nationals are looking to trade electrifying outfielder Alfonso Soriano by the July 31 deadline, he did nothing to hurt his market value yesterday.

Soriano had a grand slam, a solo home run and five RBI in leading the Nationals to an 8-4 victory against Milwaukee to complete a three-game sweep against the reeling Brewers at Miller Park.

The Nationals (25-32) knew Soriano was an offensive force when they traded outfielders Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and a minor league pitcher to the Texas Rangers in the offseason for him. But this?

Soriano hit his 20th home run of the season in the third inning off Brewers starter Jorge De La Rosa (2-2) and put the game out of reach with his 21st homer and third career grand slam in the sixth inning off reliever Joe Winkelsas.

Soriano hit a 92-mph fastball off De La Rosa that landed an estimated 425 feet to straight away center field, and connected on an inside fastball off Winkelsas that went an estimated 379 feet into the Brewers’ left-field bullpen.

“Well, if you’re going to throw him a fastball, he don’t hit them all there, but you’re dealing with fire when you do throw them,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “Sooner or later, he’ll get you.”

Said Soriano: “They know I’m a very good fastball hitter. If they throw ‘em, I’ll take it. I’m always looking fastball and I had very good contact.”

Soriano’s 13th career multi-homer game and his second of the season put him just four home runs behind Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols for the NL lead. With Pujols on the 15-day disabled list because of a strained oblique, Soriano has a chance to pass him. Soriano has homered at least once in the Nationals’ last nine series, a streak second to only Vladimir Guerrero’s 12 in 2001.

“I never saw myself having like 21 homers in two months and one week,” Soriano said.

Soriano’s career high is 39 home runs in 2002 with the New York Yankees.

Whenever Soriano homers, the Nationals usually win (12-6). He’s on pace to hit 60 this season and may have more than 30 homers by the July 10-12 All-Star break.

“In each win we have he does something to contribute to our success,” Robinson said. “He’s off to a great start, that’s what it is.”

Soriano’s 12 homers in May established a franchise record for the month and was just one homer shy of matching the club’s entire team total for May last year.

Soriano went 3-for-4 yesterday with five RBI, a walk and two runs. Second baseman Jose Vidro was the only other Nationals player to have a multi-hit game, going 3-for-5 with a double.

“He’s pretty good, man,” Vidro said of Soriano. “It doesn’t surprise me at all about his hitting because I’ve seen what he can do with his bat. I’m happy for him the way he’s going out there on the field and putting the glove on the ball.”

While Soriano’s outfield defense may still be a work in progress, he’s getting better. In the fifth inning, Soriano made a running catch in foul territory off a Prince Fielder foul ball. Soriano, 30, reached out and caught the ball about knee level and slowed down to avoid slamming into the seats along the left-field line. He also had to avoid the rolled up field tarp parked in his way.

Meanwhile, Nationals starter Tony Armas Jr. improved to 6-3 with a solid six-inning effort, allowing one unearned run on two hits while striking out four. But Robinson pulled him after only 84 pitches as a precaution because Armas has been experiencing tightness in his back.

“He could have pitched, but I didn’t let him pitch,” Robinson said. “He’s got a little back or side trouble and I was fortunate to get the six innings out of him.”

Milwaukee’s sloppy defense and poor pitching contributed to the Nationals’ sweep. The Brewers committed eight errors in the three games and were outscored 22-11. The Nationals have now won four straight and are seven games below .500 for the first time since April 28 when they were 8-15.

The Nationals open an important three-game series tonight at the Atlanta Braves with plenty of momentum. Staff ace Livan Hernandez (4-5, 5.10 ERA) faces Braves right-hander Tim Hudson (5-3, 3.99) in tonight’s opener.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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