Soto, who revealed he tested positive for marijuana in the World Baseball Classic, smashed a three-run homer with one out in the seventh Friday to power the Cubs to a 5-4 Interleague victory over their intracity rivals, the White Sox.
"He's been hitting the ball for more power," Lou Piniella said of Soto, who has four homers in his last eight games. "He's throwing much better. He competes. Last year, he had a real big year for us and got off to a slow start. He's one of the kids who should get better as the second half goes on, and he's doing that now."
The Cubs led, 5-2, in the White Sox eighth when they loaded the bases with one out. Carlos Marmol walked two batters and Jermaine Dye blooped a single that dropped between Alfonso Soriano and Andres Blanco in shallow left.
"It's my ball," Soriano said, "but I didn't see it."
Jim Thome then lined a two-run double off Derrek Lee at first to close to 5-4, and Paul Konerko was intentionally walked to load the bases again. But Sean Marshall got A.J. Pierzynski to hit into a 3-2-3 double play.
"I hit it hard and hit it right at the wrong guy," Pierzynski said.
Whether Milton Bradley is the right guy for the Cubs remains to be seen. Piniella sent the outfielder home in the sixth after Bradley threw his helmet and tossed the Gatorade cooler following a bad at-bat. The two exchanged words in the clubhouse.
"I'm not happy this happened," Piniella said, "but at the same time, it's time."
Back to Soto. Piniella did not know about Soto's test results until a few days ago. The catcher won the National League Rookie of the Year in 2008, but has not performed as well this season. Soto has known about the test results since early April.
"If I had been aware, truthfully, I would've encouraged Geo to speak of this much, much sooner to get it off his chest," Piniella said. "I think it's really a negative effect on his performance."
"He's a great kid," Soriano said of Soto. "Whatever he did in the past, keep it in the past. When you're on the field, you don't have time to think about the past."
The game was tied at 2 in the seventh against Jose Contreras (2-7) when Jake Fox singled with one out, and Mike Fontenot reached on a fielding error by Konerko at first to set up Soto's homer and the 5-2 lead.
"Every time you have good games, you want to keep it rolling, keep it going," Soto said. "Right now, I feel really good at the plate."
So does Fox. He belted a two-run homer in the fourth, his second in as many games, to back Randy Wells (2-3). The rookie pitcher struck out six over seven innings and gave up two runs on five hits, including solo homers by Dye and Thome, over seven innings for his second straight win.
"Seven innings, 100 pitches or so -- great job," Piniella said. "This young man, he competes and knows how to pitch, and he's been doing a heck of a job for us."
So has Fox. He was leading the Pacific Coast League in home runs, RBIs and batting average when he was called up, and now is 6-for-8 (.750) with two doubles, two home runs and five RBIs in his last two games. His two-run blast in the fourth gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead.
"Right now, I'm really excited where I'm at," Fox said. "It gives me a lot of confidence knowing that the approach I've taken all year, I can bring here and have some success here, too."
He also hasn't embarrassed himself at third base.
"The thing that makes you uncomfortable is not knowing what type of play you'll get that will catch you off guard," said Fox, who originally was a catcher, but has played outfield and first. "The point that makes you uncomfortable is the intricacies -- bunt situations, things like that. Now, I feel like there's not a situation that will catch me off guard. I'm getting balls, reading it well, and getting my feet moving."
He has to keep his feet moving.
"My body type, I'm not as light on my feet as other guys," Fox said.
"I like his bat, I really do," Piniella said of the rookie. "How can you not put his name in the lineup every time you have a chance?"
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less