That's big for the Cubs, who are being pursued by the second-place Brewers in the National League Central. The Cubs held a 1 1/2-game lead entering Sunday's series finale against the D-backs.
"He's going to play unless he slips coming off the airplane," joked Piniella. "He's ready to go. He's worked hard, and we could wait another week, but he's not going to get any better than he is."
The Cubs have an 8-11 record since Soriano got hurt.
Change is good: Sometimes when a player is struggling, baseball observers are quick to throw around the phrase, "Could use a change of scenery."
As far as Cubs catcher Jason Kendall is concerned, it was an apt phrase in his case after being dealt from the A's to the Cubs on July 16 for catcher Rob Bowen and Minor League lefty Jerry Blevins. Kendall, the three-time National League All-Star with the Pirates, found himself back in the Senior Circuit.
"Yeah, it was a good change in my case," said Kendall. "At the same time, it's still the same game."
The fact that Kendall finds himself in a playoff chase again is definitely not lost on the veteran backstop.
"I had a great time with [Oakland]," said Kendall. "I went to the playoffs for the first time last year and it was awesome. You want to get back there, so the trade definitely worked out for me. The A's wanted to go with younger guys, and I have nothing bad to say about them, but coming to a team in a pennant race -- that's what you play for."
Besides the benefit of playing meaningful games deep into September, the trade has also seemed to work out well for Kendall's bat. At the time of the trade, the 33-year-old -- a career .298 hitter -- was hitting just .226 for Oakland with a .261 on-base percentage.
Since joining the Cubs, Kendall is hitting a robust .304 -- third best among all Major League catchers in that time -- and getting on base at a .398 clip.
"I never really felt bad hitting this year," said Kendall. "I felt like I was having good at-bats, but I just need to find some holes. Hitting is hard enough. I just try to put the bat on the ball and find a hole somewhere."
"He's swung the bat well. He's been a good addition," said Piniella. "He's familiarized himself with our pitchers now."
Pignatiello adjusting: It's been a bit of a transition for rookie southpaw Carmen Pignatiello in his career. He went from being a starter for the first five seasons of his professional career to shifting to bullpen work last year, and now being asked to fill a more specific situational lefty role with the big club.
Cubs Double-A manager Pat Listach thinks Pignatiello can do the job.
"He's got definite lefty-on-lefty ability because of his curveball," Listach said.
The funny thing is that early in his pro career, left-handed hitters gave Pignatiello some trouble.
"I don't know what it was," Pignatiello said. "I think maybe my last two seasons my command of my fastball has been better. I can put it on both sides of the plate. I think before I would rely too much on my curve because it was always my best pitch, and maybe I was throwing it too often, so I need to work on keeping that fastball command."
One other thing Pignatiello is working on is taking care of the bright pink backpack that is in his possession at all times, part of the rookie ritual that he must go through as the new guy on the team.
"I can't get away from it," Pignatiello said with a laugh. "Whatever I have to do is fine with me. It goes with me wherever I go. It's part of being here, so I'm enjoying it."
So what exactly is in the pack?
"Mostly gum and sunflower seeds."
Quick hits: Ryan Dempster converted a season-high ninth consecutive save opportunity on Friday night in the first game of this series against the D-backs. ... Chicago's bullpen has produced a 1.45 ERA in the club's last nine games through Saturday night, allowing just four runs in 24 2/3 innings. ... Entering Sunday's game, the Cubs have gone a season-high nine straight games without allowing 10 or more hits in a contest.
Up next: Following an off-day on Monday, the Cubs open up a key three-game series with the Milwaukee Brewers, in a battle for first place in the National League Central. Lefty Rich Hill (7-7, 3.67 ERA) will take the mound for the Cubbies againt Milwaukee righty Jeff Suppan (8-11, 4.85). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT on Tuesday.
Jason Grey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less