Notes: Soriano back in Washington
Cubs outfielder discusses RFK Stadium, Wrigley Field
WASHINGTON -- Alfonso Soriano hit 24 of his 46 home runs at RFK Stadium last season, but the ballpark looked cozy compared to Wrigley Field when the wind is blowing in.
Soriano, named player of the month in June, returned Monday for the Cubs' first game against the Washington Nationals, and he received a nice round of applause from the crowd. He had a great season for the team last year, hitting 41 doubles and stealing 41 bases to go with his home runs.
"Last year was my first year in left field, and everybody knows I played four, five years at second base," Soriano said. "It opened the door to help me get the contract [with the Cubs]. The contract is not a big thing -- it's more important to me that I have a lot of love and respect for the game."
It was a big contract. Soriano signed an eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs in November. Asked how he's handled expectations that go along with such a big contract, Soriano smiled.
"Just play one day at a time, and enjoy it," he said. "I'm not trying to do too much. I'm just playing the game and having fun."
So far, Soriano has hit 15 home runs this season, but only four have come at Wrigley Field.
"This ballpark is huge, and I got 46 homers, 24 here," Soriano said of RFK Stadium. "I expected to hit more homers in Chicago, but in Chicago it's been difficult because the wind is blowing in. It happens sometimes.
"It doesn't matter if I hit a homer or not. It's important that we've been playing better."
However, Soriano did expect the Nationals players to treat him to dinner in Washington. He picked up the tab when his former teammates were in Chicago in May.
Keeping count: The Cubs still have 11 pitchers, and they may try to get through the final week before the All-Star break with that many. They're keeping their fingers crossed.
"I know this, every time we've been at 11, for whatever reason, we've had short performances or extra innings," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Monday. "Something always happens. I like the comfort of 12 as a manager, knowing you can utilize your staff and keep them as fresh as possible."
Bob Howry is handling the closer duties while Ryan Dempster is on the disabled list with a strained left oblique. Dempster had a good bullpen session Monday, and he's eligible to come off the DL on Sunday, the last day before the break. The Cubs may want to hold him out until after the four-day break to give him time to heal.
"We'd like to get to 12," Cubs assistant general manager Randy Bush said. "It's a day-to-day thing now to figure out the best way to do that. The staff wants to get to 12, and we want to be at 12.
"We just have to look at it each day and see how the bullpen gets taxed. We know that long term, during the season, we'll be at 12."
Among the players who will be considered are Clay Rapada and Sean Gallagher, both of whom were called up earlier this year.
"There's guys we can keep mixing and matching, but ideally you want to get to 12," Bush said.
Taking a break: Felix Pie has made two starts in the last seven games, and he was batting .218 this month. He sat on Monday, part of Piniella's plan to help the rookie outfielder work on some things in batting practice.
"I know he's been struggling with the bat some," Piniella said. "We're just giving him a breather, watching him take batting practice every day.
"I think it's a little more dangerous to keep playing a young kid who's struggling than just to sit him down for a while and get the cobwebs out," Piniella said. "A veteran player, no; he's been through it before and he's had to fight adversity before."
The Cubs did the same thing with Ryan Theriot, and he responded on Sunday with a career-high three doubles against the Brewers.
"We kept Theriot out for a while, and all of a sudden, he's refreshed and he's swinging the bat well," Piniella said. "It's not the worst thing in the world to let him sit for a while and relax."
Extra bases: Piniella credited outfielder Jacque Jones for making the best of an awkward situation. Jones was rumored to be dealt last week to the Marlins, but the trade fell through. "That's a tough situation, and in Jacque's defense, I think he's handled it well," Piniella said. ... Henry Blanco is continuing to take batting practice and throw. "He's making progress," Bush said. "It's not leaps and bounds like he'd like, but it's slow, and there's light at the end of the tunnel." ... Rocky Cherry, placed on the disabled list Sunday with a strained right shoulder, was sent to rehab in Arizona. ... Dave Otto is filling in for Ron Santo, who is skipping this road trip. Santo is fine, but he opted not to come to Washington because it's difficult for him to get around at RFK Stadium. ... The Cubs' July 16 game against the Giants will start at 6:05 p.m. CT to accommodate ESPN.
Minor matters: Ryan O'Malley gave up seven runs on 11 hits while striking out six over six innings in Triple-A Iowa's 7-3 loss to Albuquerque on Sunday. Micah Hoffpauir and Josh Kroeger each homered. ... Mark Holliman gave up one run on nine hits and four walks over seven innings in Double-A Tennessee's 2-1, 10-inning win over Mississippi. Jerry Blevins picked up the win, pitching three innings in relief. Jake Fox hit an RBI single in the bottom of the 10th for the game-winning hit. ... Brian Dopirak hit a two-run homer, and Kyle Reynolds hit a three-run blast to help Class A Daytona beat Vero Beach, 9-6. Mitch Atkins picked up the win. ... Class A Peoria lost, 4-2, to Burlington. Robert Hernandez gave up four runs -- two earned -- on six hits over five innings. ... Class A Boise split a doubleheader with Yakima. Ty Wright homered in the second game.
On deck: Carlos Zambrano will start the second game of the Cubs' four-game series against the Nationals on Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. CT, and the game will be broadcast on WGN.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.