Soriano to return to lineup Thursday

Soriano to return to lineup Thursday

CHICAGO -- Alfonso Soriano, sidelined with a strained right calf, passed all tests on Tuesday, and will be back in the Cubs lineup on Thursday. Expect the questions about whether he should bat leadoff to resume.

"Everything looks good for Thursday," Soriano said.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella met with athletic trainer Mark O'Neal on Tuesday to discuss Soriano's status. The Cubs have moved into first in the National League Central while Soriano has been on the disabled list, and Piniella knows the outfielder has his critics.

"If we hadn't been winning, they'd say, 'Boy, these guys really miss Soriano,'" Piniella said. "These guys have all done a nice job here, but if Soriano had been in there, we'd be playing the same way or hopefully a little better."

This is year No. 2 of Soriano's eight-year contract with the Cubs. Told by one reporter that he'll be asked about batting leadoff for six more years, Soriano smiled.

"I don't think so," Soriano said. "Maybe in a couple years, I'll be batting somewhere else. I'll get older and I won't be as fast as I am now. Maybe in a couple years, I'll be batting sixth, seventh."

On Thursday, he'll be back at the top of the order.

"I like batting leadoff," he said. "But at this point, I'm like the military. Whatever [Piniella] wants to do, I'm open.

"Like I say all the time, it's more important for me to be in the lineup," he said. "I like batting leadoff, but if I'm not batting leadoff, I'll be happy anyway because I like playing the game."

That's where Piniella wants him.

"Soriano gives us some power," Piniella said. "He can put runs on the board with one swing of the bat, that's what he brings. He brings speed to the equation. Plus, he has fun when he plays; it's a little infectious for us. I've been watching, and he's been swinging the bat very well in batting practice. The ball is jumping off his bat, and he's hitting the ball to all fields. He can carry you when he's hitting the ball the way he can."

The question still to be answered is whether he can pick up his running game. Soriano stole 40 bases in 2006, but swiped just 19 last season. Can he steal 30 again?

"If I play the rest of the season healthy, I can steal 30 bases," Soriano said. "I feel more comfortable in my quad, and my calf is not a problem at all. If I stay healthy, I can steal 30 bases."

Part of what he has to overcome is not thinking about his right leg.

"When I get an injury, I always keep it in [the back of] my mind, so I hope I play maybe one or two or three games and take it out of my mind, and play 100 percent," Soriano said. "I know my leg is 100 percent."

Inserting Soriano into the mix means that Mark DeRosa will return to second base. The Cubs then have to choose between Reed Johnson and Felix Pie in center. Both started on Tuesday, and Johnson was batting .324, while Pie was hitting .231 and showing improvement after some extra hitting sessions.

"Let's hope he hits and stays nice and hot," Piniella said of Pie. "I like him in the outfield. He made a heck of a play in Washington; it was a play you don't see many center fielders make. It's up to him."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.