- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2006

CINCINNATI — For the first time this season, Alfonso Soriano’s name was not in the Washington Nationals starting lineup.

Manager Frank Robinson gave the club’s leading home run hitter the night off yesterday — except for a pinch-hitting appearance — to think about what has caused an 11-for-58 (.190) hitting slump over his last 14 games. Soriano’s drought appears to coincide with getting moved down in the batting order.

As the Nationals leadoff man, Soriano hit .328 in 15 games, but he is hitting just .186 (8-for-43) while batting third in the order.

“I think it’s me, I think I’m trying too much,” said Soriano, who flied out to center field in the ninth inning. “I’m not letting whatever happens in the game happen. Sometimes I’m trying to do too much. I have to play like I used to play every day and not think about the situation and see the ball and hit it.”

Robinson said everything is wrong with Soriano’s swing right now, though the deficiencies weren’t apparent Tuesday night when Soriano crushed a 492-foot homer to center field — his 10th home run of the season and the fourth-longest ever hit at Great American Ball Park.

Robinson said Soriano is taking fastballs and swinging and missing at breaking balls. Robinson want his slugging outfielder to start attacking fastballs like he did earlier in the season.

“Right now, his front side is just flying open,” Robinson said. “He has no chance at a breaking ball. His timing is off, his mechanics are off, his approach is off — he has no chance.”

Soriano is one of only six active big leaguers to win at least three Silver Slugger Awards during a four-year span (2002 to 2005 as a second baseman). The Nationals aren’t about to mess with that success.

“I’m not going to try to change him,” Robinson said. “He’s had success, very good success, doing it the way he’s done it. What you try to do, is get him back on track to where he has a chance @ being successful at the plate.”

Schneider setback

Brian Schneider’s bothersome left hamstring may force the Nationals starting catcher to miss more than just a few days.

While it’s still too early to determine how long Schneider will be out, Robinson thinks it could be longer than the three days he previously missed to try to heal the injury. Last night Matthew LeCroy started for Schneider.

Schneider left Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh in the seventh inning and missed two games over three days. Schneider went 2-for-4 with a double and one RBI on Wednesday night. After the game, Schneider complained his hamstring tightened up again.

“I know it’s going to be longer than two days I would think,” Robinson said. “He had three days and it didn’t seem to heal it or get rid of it. It could be a lengthy thing and I don’t know what we mean by lengthy.”

Schneider is available to pinch hit in an emergency. He has been on a hot streak of late, reaching base safely in each of his last 10 games, going 12-for-36 (.333) with 10 RBI.

“That’s why I don’t want to come out of the lineup,” Schneider said. “It’s one thing if you’re struggling and you’re hurting the team. I feel I’m doing stuff pretty good.”

Utilityman Robert Fick’s rehab assignment at Class AA Harrisburg ends next week. If the Nationals add Fick to the 25-player active roster, the club would then have to make a corresponding roster move.

“We don’t have very many choices,” Robinson said. “It will be a very difficult move to make, but it’s something we have to do.”

Zach and Junior

The Reds activated Ken Griffey Jr. yesterday from the 15-day disabled list for the third game of this series after the outfielder missed 21 games.

The Reds transaction prompted Robinson to say, “Maybe he wants a part of us.”

Actually, Griffey already has a piece. Last year, in a May 23 game Griffey ripped a line drive off right-hander Zach Day’s pitching arm. Day, who suffered a hairline fracture on the play, wasn’t the same for the rest of the season.

He pitched two days after Griffey cracked his arm and then was placed on the DL. The Nationals traded Day to Colorado when he was on a rehab assignment at Class AA Harrisburg.

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