- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

VERO BEACH, Fla. — Alfonso Soriano’s refusal to play left field for the Washington Nationals will not continue to be a distraction. Or so said manager Frank Robinson.

“This thing is not going to drag on, let me just put it that way,” Robinson said yesterday.

Robinson expects Soriano to report to the Nationals today, although he is allowed 72 hours to return to camp. Soriano’s Dominican Republic team was eliminated from the inaugural World Baseball Classic on Saturday by Cuba 3-1.

Robinson said he plans to meet with Soriano, who will make $10 million this season, when he arrives.

Jose Vidro, a three-time All-Star, is entrenched at second base. That leaves Robinson the difficult task of convincing Soriano that the Nationals will be better off with him in left field.

“I think that has to be done and will be part of the conversation if he gets here [today],” Robinson said. “We’ll see what happens. That will just be one little small part of the conversation that I will have with him.”

Soriano has little leverage to change Robinson’s mind, considering how Dominican Republic manager Manny Acta used Soriano during the Classic.

In the two most important games for the Dominican Republic, Acta benched Soriano in favor of Placido Polanco. Soriano went 0-for-12 in the tournament and made a critical error in the seventh inning of a 7-1 loss to Puerto Rico in second-round pool play.

“I don’t think that will have an effect on what his thinking is as far as the situation and the decision he will make once he gets back here,” Robinson said. “Because of him going over there and them not playing him, I don’t think that will change his mind.”

Soriano, a four-time All-Star second baseman, is considered a weak defensive player but an explosive one at the plate.

Last season with the Texas Rangers, Soriano hit .268 with 36 home runs, 43 doubles and 104 RBI. The Nationals acquired Soriano in December in a trade with the Rangers for outfielders Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and minor league pitcher Armando Galarraga.

When Soriano reported to the Nationals’ spring training camp, he was allowed to work out exclusively at second base because that was the position he was to play in the Classic. Soriano decided to sit out of the Nationals’ first two exhibition games because he was scheduled to report to the Dominican team March 3.

When Soriano reported to the Nationals on Feb. 23, he told reporters he wasn’t physically ready to play left field and needed more time to get ready. With two weeks before Opening Day, Soriano has played no outfield with the exception of shagging balls during batting practice.

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