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Soriano expected to start Saturday

Soriano expected to start Saturday

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Alfonso Soriano has looked good this spring and doesn't expect the left fielder to start a Cactus League game until Saturday.

Soriano is coming off a disappointing season in which he hit .241. It ended early when he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in September.

"He's healthy, and we expect him to be a better all-around player," Piniella said.

Soriano has been working hard with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. One suggestion Jaramillo has made is for Soriano to shorten his stride. Second baseman Mike Fontenot and outfielder Kosuke Fukudome also are trying to make that adjustment.

This will be the first year in which Soriano will not be leading off for the Cubs. He was dropped to sixth in the lineup last July 4. He batted .268 in 41 games there while hitting .228 as the leadoff man.

"I think he's fine with it," Piniella said of the switch. "We're not going to expect 30 stolen bases from him or anything like that. Hitting in the sixth hole, he can save his legs a little more.

"What we need from Alfonso is some power and RBI production. The six hole is a really nice spot to hit in a National League lineup. I know he's comfortable with it because I've asked him. Let's hope he has an injury-free season and gets back to where he was a couple years ago and [is] a little more disciplined and [has] a healthy season, and a productive one."

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Being healthy should definitely help Soriano in the outfield. He totaled seven outfield assists last season, the first time he did not finish in double figures since he was converted to an outfielder. Soriano led the Major Leagues with 22 assists in 2006. A big part of the problem was that he couldn't plant on his left leg because of his sore knee.

Whether or not the Cubs will sub someone in late innings for Soriano has yet to be determined.

"Let's see how this team is put together," Piniella said. "I was talking to my coaches today and we have some work to do here outfield-wise. We need to find one other outfielder in camp who can swing the bat a little bit and at the same time play good defense for us.

"Right now, I'd like to just let them play and let them go. One thing we need to do is I need to rest [Soriano] a little more. We'll do that."

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

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