Notes: Soriano weathers center's tricks

Notes: Soriano weathers center

MESA, Ariz. -- Alfonso Soriano survived his first game in center field, but he was tested early.

In the third inning of Thursday's Cactus League game between the Cubs and Giants, San Francisco pinch-hitter Eddy Martinez-Esteve launched a fly ball toward right-center field. Soriano and right fielder Jacque Jones converged, and Jones snared the ball, although he had to make a long run.

"That was a real test," Soriano said of the play. "He didn't call the ball, I didn't call the ball, but I saw him close to the ball and I let him get the ball."

Soriano is Cubs coach Mike Quade's special project this spring. Quade, the outfield and third-base coach, has been spending extra time with Soriano to help him get a feel for center.

"He's got God-given speed, so he can run to either gap and get his jumps," Quade said of Soriano. "I don't care if you're playing left, center or right, the essence of center field is being able to come get balls in front of you and being able to go back hard."

If a ball is blooped in front of a corner outfielder, he often gets help from the infielders.

"If you're in center field, you have no help in front of you and no help behind you," Quade said.

Soriano has to learn to make quick adjustments, has to avoid fatigue on long runs, and has to concentrate.

"Ultimately, you respect the guy's swing, and the contact that follows it," Quade said.

Watch this spring. Does Soriano get tangled up with his feet? Is he able to get good jumps? Plus, there's the wall factor. Wrigley Field is unique, and nothing in the Cactus League -- or the rest of the National League -- can prepare a center fielder for the bricks and ivy.

"You can't simulate it," Quade said. "I was looking to find a way to put a basket up out here. A wall's a wall, a warning track is a warning track. It's a shame to run a ball down and have indecision at the track."

Most center fielders have been playing there since they were kids. Soriano moved from second base to left field last year for the first time. What's encouraging is watching Soriano and young outfielder Felix Pie work together. Pie played only center this winter and is more advanced as far as understanding the nuances of the position.

"I've been working on my timing in batting practice," Soriano said. "I feel comfortable in the game."

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Arms race: Reliever Michael Wuertz wasn't too concerned about being sidelined with a strained right shoulder. Wuertz has experienced some tightness the last two springs.

"My arm strength is good," Wuertz said. "It's been kind of tight. It felt a little different on one throw, and instead of doing anything crazy, I had it checked out."

He is expected to play catch Saturday or Sunday, and then throw off a mound Tuesday or Wednesday if all goes well.

"I'd rather have it now than three weeks from now," he said.

Lineup: Matt Murton was 0-for-2 in the No. 2 spot on Thursday. Others who might see time there include Jones, Mark DeRosa, Cesar Izturis and Michael Barrett.

"When the season starts, I don't like to experiment," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Spring Training is as good a place as any to move people around and see what they're capable of doing.

"The one thing I know about the two hole is we have to have somebody who is patient there," Piniella said. "We have a young man who can steal 40, 45, 50 bases, and we can't have a guy who is overly aggressive and swings at the first pitch all the time. Also, we want somebody who can hit a fastball, and also somebody who can go to the right side of the field a little bit and not pull it."

The Cubs hope they don't need to hit-and-run because Soriano will be off and running, and able to steal.

Extra bases: Daryle Ward was experiencing cramps on the right side of his stomach, which is why doctors thought he might have appendicitis. He was feeling well enough to pinch-hit Thursday. ... Comcast SportsNet and WGN-TV will combine to broadcast 14 games this spring. WGN's first telecast will be Sunday, when the Cubs play host to the White Sox. ... Carlos Zambrano is scheduled to start Friday against the Angels at HoHoKam Park. Wade Miller will start Saturday, and Rich Hill on Sunday. ... Outfielder Cliff Floyd is not expected to see any playing time until March 10, to give his left foot time to heal. ... Congratulations to John Webb and wife Megan, who celebrated the birth of their son, Ashton, on Wednesday. The youngster checked in at 6 pounds 15 ounces. ... Bracelets supporting Derrek Lee's Project 3000 will be for sale at HoHoKam Park behind the right-field bleachers Friday and Sunday. ... Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins threw out the ceremonial first pitch for Thursday's spring opener.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.