Piniella Encouraged by Cubs Second Half

The Cubs entered Monday in first place for the first time since April 21, and they're beginning to get a few players back from the disabled list.

Right-handed pitcher Ryan Dempster will start Tuesday night after missing most of July because of a broken right big toe. Catcher Geovany Soto is due back sometime next week after being sidelined by a strained oblique muscle.

What seems to have manager Lou Piniella encouraged is a lineup that is giving him some newfound flexibility.

Left fielder Alfonso Soriano has been moved from the leadoff spot to sixth, a move that looks permanent. Piniella seems to like the lefty-righty combo of Kosuke Fukudome and Reed Johnson in the top spot of the order.

"We're doing better with our lineup," Piniella said. "We've got Reed and Fukudome leading off. Basically, we're staying pretty constant. It gives us some flexibility. And we always have a bat or two coming off the bench that can swing it a little bit."

CUBS 5, ASTROS 1 (13 innings): Soriano hit a grand slam with nobody out in the bottom of the 13th. RHP Carlos Zambrano pitched seven innings, giving up three hits and one run. The Cubs bullpen pitched six scoreless innings. 1B Derrek Lee homered in the fourth.


--LHP Ted Lilly underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Monday. Lilly was put on the DL Saturday because of left shoulder inflammation, and he decided to take care of the knee, which has been bothering him recently. He is expected to miss 4-5 starts.

--Soriano extended his hitting streak to 10 games with his 13th-inning grand slam. He is 17-for-42 (.405) during the streak. Soriano has been moved from leadoff to sixth, a move that appears permanent. The grand slam was his first of the year and the fourth of his career.

--RHP Jeff Stevens, a rookie, has made four appearances this year and has not allowed a run in 5 2/3 innings. Stevens worked the 10th and 11th innings, giving up two hits.

"I tell you what, Stevens has got a nice arm," said Piniella. "He's worked hard on his curveball at the end of spring training and in Triple-A."

--Lee hit his 20th homer of the year to lead off the fourth. It marked the ninth time Lee has reached the 20-homer mark in his big-league career. He has driven in runs in each of his last four games.

--C Koyie Hill started his 17th consecutive game. He's been playing while Geovany Soto has been on the DL with an oblique-muscle strain. The last Cubs catcher to start 17 in a row was Rick Wilkins, in 1991, according to the Cubs.

--Zambrano turned in his 13th quality start. He doubled in the third inning and has a hit in four of his last six starts. --The Sports XChange


At Albuquerque, N.M., the Cubs (52-50) were held to seven hits in the loss Monday. SS Darwin Barney (2-for-4, double) and 1B Bobby Scales (2-4) paced the offense with two hits apiece. RHP Jose Ascanio (2-4) started and suffered his third straight loss, allowing three runs and eight hits in five innings. He threw 88 pitches, 60 strikes, striking out four and walking two.


At Mobile, Ala., the Smokies (46-55 overall, 14-17 second half) collected 10 hits in the victory Monday. 2B Tony Thomas (2-4) and RF Doug Deeds (2-3) homered and paced the offense with two hits apiece. Thomas' ninth home run was his first since May 18. LHP Jeremy Papelbon (3-4) earned the win in relief with 4 1/3 scoreless innings. He allowed just three hits. RHP David Patton, on rehab from Chicago, started and allowed two unearned runs and three hits in 2 2/3 innings.


At Sarasota, Fla., the Cubs (49-47, 15-14) were held to six hits in the loss Monday. CF Brandon Guyer (2-3) collected his 11th double, and LF Tony Campana (1-4) singled to extend his hit streak to nine games. RHP Henry Williamson (6-4) suffered the loss, allowing one run and four hits in 2 2/3 innings in relief. RHP Rafael Dolis started and tossed five shutout innings, allowing one hit in a no-decision.


At Peoria, the Chiefs (53-46, 15-15) collected 12 hits to complete the series sweep Monday. It was Peoria's fifth straight win. 1B Rebel Ridling (4-4) paced the offense with four hits, including his 12th home run and third in his last four games. 2B Ryan Flaherty (1-4) hit his 14th home run and third in four nights. RHP Austin Bibens-Dirkx (2-1) pitched a complete-game five-hitter, allowing one run. He struck out seven and did not allow a walk to lower his ERA to 2.39 in five appearances.


At Eugene, Ore., the Hawks (16-21) were held to six hits in the loss Monday. Six players recorded one hit apiece for Boise, including SS Hak-Ju Lee (1-3) and CF Brett Jackson (1-4). Lee has reached base safely in 21 consecutive games, in which he is batting .353 with 15 RBI. Jackson, the Cubs' first-round pick from California, has reached base safely in each of the first 26 games of his pro career, in which he is batting .301 with a .426 on-base percentage. RHP Robert Hernandez (1-2) started and suffered the loss, allowing two runs and four hits in three innings.


At Mesa, the Cubs (16-14) were out-hit 14-6 in the loss Monday. CF Francisco Guzman (2-3) paced the offense with two hits and reached base four times. 2B D. J. LeMahieu (0-3) walked and drove in a run. He will join Class-A Peoria Tuesday. LHP Cody Hams (1-2) started and suffered the loss, allowing six runs on three hits and four walks in one inning.

--Staff Reports

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