- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

NEW YORK — He’s got his 40 homers. He’s got his 40 stolen bases. He’s got his 40 doubles. He’s got his 20 outfield assists. Now Alfonso Soriano has his sights on 100 RBI, the final milestone left to reach before the season ends next weekend.

And with some help from Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson, Soriano is going to find himself in better position to do it.

Robinson moved his star slugger out of the leadoff spot yesterday and bumped him down to third in the lineup. It was the first time Soriano hasn’t hit first since May 10 at Cincinnati.

The reason: Robinson wants Soriano to have more opportunities to drive in his 100th run, something that’s been difficult from the top of the order.

“He didn’t ask for it,” the manager said of Soriano, who has 94 RBI. “I just told him I’d like him to achieve that. He’s earned it.”

Soriano, who on Friday became the first player in major league history to hit 40 homers, steal 40 bases and hit 40 doubles in the same season, was a late arrival at Shea Stadium yesterday. He didn’t walk into the clubhouse until about 80 minutes before first pitch, after which he was summoned into Robinson’s office and asked if he wouldn’t mind hitting third.

“He’s the manager,” Soriano said. “What [can] I say?”

Soriano has typically preferred to lead off, where his career numbers suggest he performs better. In 2,052 career at-bats at the top of the lineup, he owns at .291 average, 121 homers and 281 RBI. In 1,825 at-bats everywhere else in the lineup, he’s hitting only .269 with 86 homers and 277 RBI.

Even from his new spot in the order, Soriano only came up once yesterday with men on base (in the fifth inning). He reached when he was hit by pitch, but clubbed a solo homer (his 46th of the season) in the seventh.

Patterson progressing

John Patterson, who made only seven starts this season before being shut down and having his right arm operated on, threw 60 pitches off a mound yesterday and pronounced himself in tip-top shape.

“It feels good,” the right-hander said.

Patterson had surgery July 21 to repair an impinged nerve in his throwing elbow, an injury that plagued him all season and limited him to only seven starts.

The 28-year-old plans to take only a few weeks off in October before beginning his offseason throwing program. He believes he’ll return to his 2005 form (when he went 9-7 with a 3.13 ERA) in 2007. The Nationals will be counting on him to lead their pitching staff.

“I don’t think there’s a whole lot to prove,” Patterson said. “My confidence is there.”

Extra bases

Pitching coach Randy St. Claire was sent back to the team hotel yesterday with the flu. Robinson assumed his responsibilities, including all visits to the mound. The club hopes to have St. Claire back for today’s game. …

General manager Jim Bowden also was absent from yesterday’s game so he could attend funeral services for longtime baseball executive Syd Thrift. Bowden credits Thrift, who died Monday night at 77, for giving him his first shot in the big leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the late 1980s. …

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Soriano and Felipe Lopez are the first major-league teammates to steal at least 40 bases in the same season in 13 years. Luis Polonia and Chad Curtis of the California Angels and Marquis Grissom and Delino DeShields of the Montreal Expos were the last to do it in 1993.

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