Cubs Starting to Get Healthy Again

Manager Lou Piniella was breathing a little easier Thursday with the return of Aramis Ramirez and Reed Johnson to the lineup.

Ramirez came back from the Dominican Republic after his wife gave birth to a child. Johnson, who had back spasms, was activated off the disabled list.

Alfonso Soriano was in Chicago getting his broken left hand X-rayed again. The Cubs said the X-rays showed good progress, and Soriano can begin taking batting practice off a tee Friday.

Carlos Zambrano flew ahead of the team to St. Louis, where he will start Friday's series opener against the Cardinals.

Zambrano had a strained right shoulder. Piniella said Thursday that the Cubs will limit him to 85-90 pitches Friday, with the hope Zambrano can give the team six innings. That pitch count is likely to remain in effect for at least one additional start.


--INF-OF Eric Patterson was optioned back to Class AAA Iowa (Des Moines) when OF Reed Johnson was activated. The Cubs preferred the right-handed bat of Matt Murton to the left-handed hitting of Patterson, who is still trying to find a defensive position.

--RHP Jose Ascanio is the likely candidate to be sent to the minor leagues when RHP Carlos Zambrano comes off the DL Friday. That doesn't mean Ascanio is out of the picture, though. Piniella likes power arms in the bullpen, and Ascanio throws hard. He could be back sooner rather than later.

--RF Kosuke Fukudome moved down to second in the batting order with Reed Johnson hitting leadoff. Piniella indicated earlier this week that Fukudome would hit second when Soriano comes off the DL. Fukudome took over the top spot in the order a week after Soriano went down, in mid-June.

--RHP Carlos Marmol will look at films Friday with Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild to see if he's tipping his pitches. Marmol has given up a pair of three-run homers in two days but says he's feeling fine physically.

--3B Aramis Ramirez went 0-for-4 Thursday, extending his hitless skid to 21 at-bats. It was Ramirez's first game back from a three-day trip home to take care of family business. He said he will not require much time to get his stroke back.

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