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Notes: Cubs have spark plug in Perez

Notes: Cubs have spark plug in Perez

CHICAGO -- When Nomar Garciaparra returns to the Chicago Cubs, he may have a tough time breaking into the lineup because of shortstop Neifi Perez.

Garciaparra was to begin a stint with Class A Peoria on Tuesday night, but the game was rained out. He has been sidelined since rupturing a tendon in his groin on April 20, and has played two games for the Mesa rookie team so far.

Perez, who expected to be a backup this season, has been the Cubs' full-time shortstop. He is batting .265 overall, but came up with a clutch grand slam on Sunday night against St. Louis, one day after making a key double play to secure a win against the Cardinals. Perez also hit an eighth-inning game-tying RBI single in Monday's game against the Giants, which the Cubs went on to win in the ninth.

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"He gave us an instant jolt from the very beginning," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said of Perez, who hit .368 in April. "He was All-Star caliber, and then he squandered a little bit at the break.

"He's played Gold Glove shortstop," Baker said. "He's gotten some big hits for us. He's batted leadoff, he's batted second, he's got 40 RBIs -- that's quite a bit. Neifi's done a great job. I think he's proven that he's more than just a utility guy. There are a lot of shortstops in baseball who are playing who aren't as good as Neifi. Neifi has a lot of life left in him."

Wouldn't Garciaparra automatically bump Perez out of the starting lineup?

"It depends on how Nomar looks when he comes back," Baker said. "Neifi realizes when he came here, he came as a utility guy. I hear, 'Play [Ronny] Cedeno.' What am I supposed to do? Ditch Neifi? This guy saved us. I think Cedeno is going to be a fine player but sometimes you have to wait your turn. Sometimes you have to serve your apprenticeship."

Garciaparra is expected to play three games for the Class A team and then return to Chicago on Friday to be re-examined. The Cubs will decide where he goes next at that time.

"I just told him, 'Don't get hit in the back because usually kids' control and the lights aren't as good,'" Baker said. "He said he might go up there with a double-ear flap helmet. The main thing is to get back in the game condition -- game movement, game speed. You can practice all you want to but it's hard to practice game speed."

The Cubs don't want to put a timetable on his recovery until Garciaparra has a chance to test his legs.

"It's hard for me to be optimistic or pessimistic," Baker said. "I'm at the mercy of what he says and the people who evaluate him."

One more chance: Rich Hill will likely get another start with the Cubs on Saturday against Arizona. The left-hander made his first Major League start on Monday, subbing for Kerry Wood.

"We haven't decided yet," Baker said about whether Hill would start, then added, "I don't know why not at this point."

Hill has pitched at Class A, Double-A and Triple-A this year, and noticed a difference between the Minor League and the Major League hitters.

"One of the things I've noticed with the guys here is that they're looking for one pitch, one type of area in the strike zone that they're going to swing at," Hill said. "They're looking to put the ball out of the ballpark. They're not just looking to get a slap hit here or there, but to drive it over the wall. That's probably the biggest difference."

He's not particular about where he pitches. He made the Class A start to stay on schedule because the Triple-A team's games were postponed by weather.

"It's been interesting bouncing around," he said. "Wherever I need to go to pitch, that's it."

62 to go: Tuesday would be the Cubs' 100th game of the season. The top marks through the first 100 games since 1960 are:

Runs: 90 -- Billy Williams, 1970

Hits: 137 -- Ryne Sandberg, 1984; Williams, 1964

Doubles: 39 -- Mark Grace, 1995

Triples: 15 -- Sandberg, 1984

Home runs: 38 -- Sammy Sosa, 1999

RBIs: 98 -- Sosa, 2001

Average: .349 -- Glenn Beckert, 1971 (134-for-384)

Slugging percentage: .689 -- Sosa, 2001 (347 at-bats)

This year will mark the 10th time the Cubs will have two players with at least 20 home runs through Game No. 100. It also happened last season when Moises Alou hit 25 and Sosa had 21.

But 2005 is the first time the Cubs will have two players with at least 25 home runs through Game No. 100. Derrek Lee entered Tuesday's game with 32 homers and Aramis Ramirez had 27.

Extra bases: If Ryan Dempster isn't available to pitch, who will Baker call upon to close games? "It depends on who's up there," said Baker, who will go with the best matchup. ... WGN Radio will air a special two-part interview with new Hall of Famer Sandberg on Sunday's pregame show. ... Adam Greenberg, who was hit in the head in his first Major League at-bat by the first pitch, has yet to play in a game. He is in Mesa, Ariz., and could start with the rookie team by the end of the week.

Countdown to Cooperstown: A record 52 Hall of Famers are expected to return this weekend to Cooperstown to welcome new inductees, Sandberg and Wade Boggs. The induction ceremony will be held Sunday at 12:30 p.m. CT, and will be shown live on ESPN Classic.

If you're going for the ceremony, try to stay over for Monday's "Legends Series" event. Sandberg and Boggs will discuss their careers along with fellow Hall of Famer Rod Carew. ESPN will rebroadcast the show on ESPN2 on Monday night.

A select number of seats remain and reservations for both children and adults are required. Check the Hall of Fame website for information at www.baseballhalloffame.org.

Please be advised that the Museum will hold special hours for Hall of Fame Weekend 2005 and will be open Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. All times are Eastern.

Minor matters: Carmen Pignatiello gave up one run on two hits and four walks over four innings in Triple-A Iowa's 6-4 loss to Oklahoma on Monday. Cliff Bartosh served up five runs over three innings in relief to take the loss. Corey Patterson was 1-for-5, and struck out three times. Scott McClain went 2-for-4 with a homer. ... Mike Billek gave up one run on five hits over five innings in Class A Peoria's 4-1 win over Dayton. Ryan Harvey was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs and Aaron Smith was 2-for-4.

On deck: Carlos Zambrano (7-4, 3.42 ERA) is scheduled to close the series on Wednesday as the Cubs return to day baseball. He's won his last three decisions, and is coming off a stellar game against St. Louis, in which he matched his career high of 12 strikeouts. Zambrano will face right-hander Brett Tomko (7-10, 5.03 ERA).

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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