- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 13, 2006

ATLANTA — With two-thirds of the New York Yankees starting outfield sidelined with injuries, it didn’t take long for trade rumors involving the Washington Nationals to start.

Radio airwaves buzzed yesterday with word that the Yankees reportedly are interested in acquiring Nationals left fielder Alfonso Soriano. Nationals general manager Jim Bowden would neither confirm nor deny that Yankees GM Brian Cashman had contacted him about Soriano or any other outfielder.

“Due to our poor start, we’ve had a lot of teams called inquiring about a lot of our quality players because of where we are in the standings,” Bowden said. “And certainly, we have a significant amount of talented players, although we have a tremendous amount of underachieving going on. Certainly the baseball world recognizes the talent that we have.

“I don’t want to talk about specific clubs or specific players except for the fact that we will listen obviously to any club, and I’ve told clubs that we have interest in discussing deals that will bring in young, impactful players to Washington to build this thing long-term.”

The Yankees found themselves in need of outfielders Thursday when left fielder Hideki Matsui fractured his left wrist. He will miss about at least three months. Meanwhile, veteran right fielder Gary Sheffield already is on the disabled list with a wrist injury and center fielder Johnny Damon is banged after crashing into the wall.

Melky Cabrera, Bubba Crosby and Bernie Williams will fill the two corner outfield positions for the Yankees. That may not be enough firepower for New York to stay with the division-leading Boston Red Sox.

Other outfielders the Yankees are said to be interested in are Minnesota’s Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart and Aubrey Huff of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Manager Frank Robinson re-inserted Soriano as the club’s leadoff hitter and said he will remain in that role for the rest of the season, or however long he is still with the club.

“Right now, we need whatever we can get out of him and doing what he was doing a little earlier when he was up there,” Robinson said.

As the Nationals’ leadoff man, Soriano hit .328 in 15 games, not including last night. But he is hitting just .186 (8-for-43) while batting third. Robinson gave Soriano the night off Thursday, but used him as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning.

“I know what I’m doing wrong at homeplate, so that’s the most important for me, and I’m glad I’m leading off, I feel comfortable now,” said Soriano, who singled to right in the fourth inning that broke up John Smoltz’s no-hitter.

New owners on tour

Mark Lerner, the son of the new Nationals owner, and incoming team president Stan Kasten attended last night’s game at Turner Field. They toured both Turner Field and Phillips Arena to collect ideas for Washington’s new baseball stadium.

Kasten helped develop both Atlanta facilities while serving as a long-time executive with the Braves and Hawks.

“We were showing that stuff to Mark and we talked about what might be adaptable, what ideas we might borrow, what we might be able to do on our own, it was just a good day,” Kasten said.

Kasten said he already has had two meetings concerning the plans for the stadium and will have a few more this upcoming week.

“It’s a massive amount of material to digest,” he said. “And that’s going to take a lot of my attention early on.”

Lerner said he was definitely impressed with what Kasten put together at Turner Field.

“This place is quite amazing. It’s basically an amusement park in a lot of ways,” Lerner said. “Every place you turn, there’s something for the fans. He said he’s very proud of the fact that even when there is rainouts and rain delays, we can house more people in an undercover areas and keep them happy with things to do more than any park in the country.”

Lerner also said when the sale of the Nationals is officially closed, which is expected sometime in mid-June, Nationals fans can expect some changes at RFK Stadium. Lerner said subtle touches will include trimming the bushes and shrubs around the stadium, adding better food, general cleaning, and other improvements.

Pink bats

In conjunction with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Major League Baseball will help raise money tomorrow to fight the disease. That includes pink bats.

Ryan Church, Matthew LeCroy, Brian Schneider, Ryan Zimmerman and Jose Vidro received pink bats yesterday at Turner Field. Louisville Slugger produced special pink bats for players for Mother’s Day games. It will be up to the individual player if they want to use the bats.

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

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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