Unfazed Soto returns to Cubs' lineup

Unfazed Soto returns to Cubs' lineup

PHOENIX -- Geovany Soto's sabbatical did not last long. Cubs manager Lou Piniella had planned to give the struggling catcher two down days to regroup but couldn't resist returning him to the lineup for Wednesday afternoon's series finale against the D-backs.

So, Soto was back in action, along with his .119 batting average, after sitting out Tuesday night's game while replacement Koyie Hill went 3-for-5 in Chicago's 11-3 win.

"I guess the day off helped. I didn't do anything," said Soto, who seems far less concerned about his season-opening slump than most observers.

For one thing, the 2008 National League Rookie of the Year feels he has been hitting in "tough luck."

"I feel real good," he said, "but I've had some tough breaks."

For another, he can remember his impressive 2008 season getting off to a similar start, with three hits in his first 16 at-bats.

The main difference now would appear to be the fact he is coming off a rookie season in which he hit .285 with 23 homers and 86 RBIs -- meaning he now has to deal with the weight of precedent.

Piniella doesn't think Soto's struggles have anything to do with the proverbial "sophomore jinx," which is merely a euphemism for not successfully dealing with the adjustments pitchers make on second-year players.

Even though Soto missed the bulk of Spring Training to be a part of Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, close examination reveals little difference between this preseason and the last.

"I don't know if that's affected my start in any way," Soto said. "I really don't know."

While at Cubs camp this spring, Soto went 8-for-25 in Cactus League games. While teaming with Yadier Molina as backups for Ivan Rodriguez for Puerto Rico, he was 3-for-13.

The 38 game-action at-bats are considerably low, especially when compared to his 62 exhibition at-bats prior to his stellar rookie season. But Soto had hit .194 in those at-bats, hardly sending him into the season on a high.

He is more conspicuous now, another element of the "sophomore jinx."

"Sometimes," said Piniella, who has been there, having been named the 1969 American League Rookie of the Year, "a young player just has to relax and you have to give him a little time to get himself together."

Before Wednesday's game, Soto was the picture of relaxation.

"I still have 400 at-bats to go. I'm really not pressing," he said. "I'm trying to do the same thing I did last year. I'm really not putting any extra pressure on myself."

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