Soriano takes a big step toward return

Soriano working his way back

DENVER -- Alfonso Soriano took a big step Wednesday in working his way back from the right calf strain that landed him on the disabled list a week ago.

Soriano took batting practice for the first time Wednesday, and he followed that up with some light running in the outfield, taking some jogs from the foul line to center field and back. He then worked on agility drills, running sideways and making cross steps in left field. He capped the workout by putting his glove on and fielding some grounders and fly balls thrown to him in the outfield.

"I feel good," Soriano said after leaving the field. "It's my first day of work. I feel very comfortable hitting, but not running. I have one more week."

The Cubs were happy with the results of Soriano's first work on the field since his injury, and they remain optimistic about his chances of coming back on schedule a week from Thursday.

"He's doing real well," said Mark O'Neal, Cubs director of athletic training. "No complaints. We're pleased with what he's doing right now."

From manager Lou Piniella's perspective, Soriano might even be ahead of schedule. Earlier in the afternoon, Piniella had pointed to the weekend as the target for Soriano to step up his work with hitting and working on the field.

"He's getting close to it," Piniella said. "He's been working in the training room and in the weight room, but he hasn't had any other duty out here."

With their leadoff man and left fielder on the road to recovery, the Cubs have a couple of questions to answer over the course of the next week. First on the docket is whether or not Soriano will need to do any rehab work in the Minor Leagues before coming back to join the club.

"I would think probably not," Piniella said, before growing reluctant to speculate on Soriano's return path. "That's going to be [general manager] Jim Hendry's call."

When he went on the DL, Soriano had a .175 average (10-for-57) with two homers and two stolen bases, so a quick tuneup in the Minors wouldn't be an unreasonable part of a rehab program for the Cubs' offensive sparkplug.

The other consideration is whether or not to slot Soriano back in the leadoff spot immediately upon his return. Particularly if the Cubs forgo a Minor League rehab assignment for Soriano, the opportunity to work his way back in another spot in the lineup with different demands than the leadoff spot could also be beneficial.

Reed Johnson has hit leadoff for the Cubs the past four games, going 4-for-16 with a double and three runs scored. He's seen plenty of playing time with rookie Felix Pie struggling offensively and with Soriano's DL trip, and Johnson is hitting .339 (19-for-56) on the season. But Piniella was not enthusiastic about entertaining any sort of change in Soriano's job description, temporary or not.

"We'll put him back in left field and lead him off when he's ready to go," Piniella assured. "We want to make sure he can do all the things that a leadoff hitter needs to do. We don't want to take any chances early in the year bringing him back too soon and all of a sudden we have another problem on our hands.

"He's going to go through a full agenda of outfield play and running the bases and hitting and those sorts of things to ensure that we keep him as healthy as possible. But yeah, when he comes back, he'll go to left field and lead off."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.