Soriano targeting 155 games in 2009
Slugger plans to stay healthy; Lou plans to keep him fresh
HOUSTON -- Alfonso Soriano has set the number he's shooting for this season, and it has nothing to do with stolen bases or home runs. His magic number is 155, which is how many games the Cubs' leadoff man wants to play.
Why not 162? Because Cubs manager Lou Piniella is insisting that Soriano take some time off this season.
The two discussed how many games Soriano would play Sunday at the batting cage during the last workout prior to Monday's season opener between the Cubs and Houston Astros.
"He told me yesterday by the cage 155," Piniella said. "That was his number. My number was less than that."
Piniella has repeatedly said he wants to give the regulars more days off during the season to keep them fresh for the postseason. Players like Soriano don't exactly agree with that philosophy.
"It probably won't be easy," Piniella said. "These guys are gamers, and I appreciate that, I really do. Assuming everything goes well for us and we stay healthy and play well as a team, I think the proper approach is to give everybody time off."
How did Soriano come up with 155? He told Piniella he'd agree to a day off, but only one each month.
"I just want to play 155 games," said the left fielder, who had one of his best springs, batting .325 with six homers.
He got things started Monday night by hitting his 50th career leadoff homer off Houston's Roy Oswalt. It marked the fourth time a Cubs leadoff batter has homered on Opening Day, and first since Tuffy Rhodes did so April 4, 1994, when he connected off the Mets' Dwight Gooden.
"He gives us a big spark," Piniella said of his leadoff man. "When he's focused at home plate and swinging at strikes, he's an offensive machine. He loves to play, and he has so much energy."
"[Oswalt] threw the first pitch in, and I said maybe he'll throw another fastball for a strike, and I made a good swing on it," Soriano said.
Former Cubs pitcher and current ESPN analyst Rick Sutcliffe predicts great things for Soriano and has made him his preseason pick for National League Most Valuable Player. Soriano said he's not thinking MVP.
"I think about being healthy," Soriano said. "My first two years, I didn't play 100 percent. Now, I want to play 155 games."
If he reached that figure, it would be the most since playing 159 in 2006, with the Washington Nationals. Leg injuries have hampered Soriano the last two years with the Cubs, although he does have 62 homers in the two seasons, 145 RBIs and a .291 average.
"He's feeling really good and moving well in the outfield, and he's been swinging the bat well the last couple weeks of Spring Training," Piniella said. "He's on target. We'll try to rest these guys as much as possible."
So, what about all this MVP talk?
"It's too early for that," Soriano said. "I just want to play 155. We'll see what happens."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.