Surge nets Soriano Player of the Week
Seven-homer stretch earns emerging Cubs outfielder honor
In the first month and a half of the season, Alfonso Soriano struggled at the plate and in the field. A career .282 hitter, Soriano was batting .223 with a .275 on-base percentage. But he was sure his slump was nothing more than a matter of misfortune.
"I feel very comfortable, and I'm surprised," Soriano said on May 3. "I'm swinging the bat good and feel good."
"He's had a couple of rough days," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "That's the way it is. That's life."
Looks like they were both right.
After a week of torrid hitting that helped the Cubs to a 4-2 record, Soriano was named National League Player of the Week, presented by Bank of America, on Monday.
From May 12-18, Soriano amassed 16 hits, including six multihit games, and raised his batting average from .223 to .296. He led the Majors in home runs (seven), RBIs (14), slugging percentage (1.258) and total bases (39) in that span.
"A month ago, I didn't trust my hands," Soriano said on Friday, after hitting two home runs in a 7-4 victory over the Pirates. "Now, I trust my hands. I stay back a little bit more and see the ball better."
Soriano blasted three leadoff home runs in the last week and became only the second leadoff batter in the last 40 years to record consecutive multihomer games on Friday and Saturday against the Pirates. This is the sixth time that Soriano, a six-time All-Star, has earned Player of the Week honors -- once with the Cubs, three times with the Yankees and once with the Rangers.
Soriano said the difference between his ultra-slow start -- he had just four multihit games in his first 23 starts -- and his recent tear is simple.
"I have my confidence back," Soriano said.
The outfielder hit the disabled list in mid-April with an injured right calf and was activated on May 1. He felt "nervous" upon his return to the lineup, but he began working daily with hitting coach Gerald Perry to become more at ease with the bat in his hands. Soriano is an aggressive hitter, often swinging at the first pitch, so for him, poise is everything.
"Sometimes I go to home plate when I feel comfortable, and I say to myself, 'If they throw a first-pitch fastball down the middle, I've got to swing because that's my chance,'" Soriano said.
Lately, with his swing so in-tune, it's rare that a pitcher will even try sneaking a fast ball past Soriano. Not that the pitch selection really matters to him -- at least not when he's in a groove.
"When my swing is good, and I swing at strikes, it doesn't matter what pitch they throw," Soriano said. "I trust my hands. That's what's important."
Soriano cites his ability to keep his hands back and wait for the right pitch to come his way before attacking.
For a while, Cubs fans booed the outfielder, questioning whether he should continue hitting in the leadoff spot. But Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa, previously Soriano's teammate in Texas, never doubted the slugger.
"He's one of the best ballplayers in the game for a reason," DeRosa said. "When you go that bad, that means you're going to go that good at some point."
Beginning Monday, Soriano squared off against another red-hot hitter, Houston's Lance Berkman, in a three-game series that could shake up the NL Central standings. With a series sweep, the Astros could take control of the division.
Berkman was also nominated for Player of the Week honors after hitting .485 while tallying four home runs and eight RBIs.
"I'm happy for him because he's a good guy," Soriano said. "He can be a little cold for three games against us. I hope he can shut it down a little bit for three days."
Soriano wasn't the only Cubs player recognized this week for stellar play. DeRosa (.455 batting average, one home run, three RBIs) and pitcher Ryan Dempster (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 12 strikeouts) were also nominated. Milwaukee's Ryan Braun (.345 batting average, six home runs, 10 RBIs) was also recognized, among several others.
Tourneau, the world's largest watch store, will award Soriano with a luxury Swiss Timepiece, suitably engraved, in recognition of his accomplishments as the Bank of America Presents the National League Player of the Week.
David Biderman is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.