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04/26/09 7:03 PM ET

Piniella not worried about Soto's bat

Chicago (9-8) at Arizona (7-11), 8:40 p.m. CT

A year ago, Geovany Soto batted .333 in the first month en route to winning the National League Rookie of the Year award. This season, he's batting .128 in the first 17 games.

The Cubs hope Soto can find his hitting groove when they open a three-game series Monday in Arizona against the D-backs.

"Soto missed a lot in Spring Training," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of his catcher, who played for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. "He's basically getting his at-bats now."

Piniella has seen improvement.

"He's been jumping at home plate and pulling off the ball," Piniella said. "[On Saturday], he drove the ball to center field better. That's a good sign. We need for Soto to hit and drive in some runs at the bottom part of the lineup."

On Sunday, Soto went 0-for-4 in the Cubs' 10-3 win over the Cardinals.

Soto said he doesn't feel he's being pitched any differently than last year. Teams will pay attention to a hitter, especially after his sensational freshman season in which he hit .285, belted 23 homers and drove in 86 runs.

"I was a Rookie of the Year myself in 1969 and my second year, I hit .301," Piniella said. "What I'm trying to say is, if you have the same approach and you maintain your confidence and swing at strikes, you have an advantage, too, because you know the pitchers you're out there facing.

"You hear about the 'sophomore slump,'" he said. "I think that phrase is more up here [in one's head] than it is physical. It's more mental than physical. I think he's going to be fine. I just have to play him and keep him getting at-bats until he has a couple good solid games and he starts hitting the ball and I think things will start flowing from there."

Pitching matchup
CHC: LHP Ted Lilly (2-1, 2.41 ERA)
Lilly did not get a win in his last start, but pitched well enough to get a "W." Trouble is, he was outpitched by Johnny Cueto. In Lilly's last two starts, he has not given up an earned run in 13 2/3 innings, and has 10 strikeouts. Against the Reds in his last start, he did not walk a batter over seven innings, giving up five hits. Lilly used his curveball more against Cincinnati. It did the trick. The Reds' only score off him was set up by a throwing error he made fielding a bunt.

ARI: RHP Yusmeiro Petit (0-1, 6.00 ERA)
Petit has taken Brandon Webb's place in the rotation while the right-hander recovers from shoulder stiffness. In two starts, Petit has allowed five earned runs in 10 innings. Unfortunately the bullpen has struggled both times he has pitched -- in his first outing against the Dodgers, which resulted in an 11-2 loss, and his last time out against the Rockies, which turned into a 9-6 Arizona loss. Petit has filled the spot-starter/long-relief role for the D-backs the past two seasons. Though he doesn't possess overpowering stuff, he has a good feel for pitching and generally has good command.

The Cubs were 4-2 against the D-backs last year, including 1-2 on the road. They are 10-25 since 1999 in Arizona. ... Alfonso Soriano has a career .353 average against Dan Haren, including two home runs and three doubles. ... Kosuke Fukudome batted third on Sunday for the fourth time this season, and drove in a career-high five runs. "You don't have to change your style because you hit second or third in the lineup," Piniella said. "Once you come up to bat once, it's to start the game that way. He doesn't need to change anything. Not at all." ... Ryan Dempster's next start will be No. 200 of his career. ... Jake Fox belted his ninth home run in Iowa's 6-3 loss to Nashville on Saturday. Jose Ascanio threw four scoreless innings, striking out four. He gave up two hits. Fox was batting .438 so far. ... Casey Lambert threw six scoreless innings in Tennessee's 5-0 win over Carolina. Right-handers are batting .167 against Lambert so far. ... James Leverton gave up one run on two hits over six innings in Daytona's win over Lakeland. ... Josh Vitters hit his first homer of the season in Peoria's 6-5 win over Cedar Rapids.

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Up next
• Tuesday: Cubs (Carlos Zambrano, 1-1, 4.85) at Diamondbacks (Dan Haren, 1-3, 1.38), 8:40 p.m. CT
• Wednesday: Cubs (Ryan Dempster, 1-0, 4.88) at Diamondbacks (Doug Davis, 1-3, 3.67), 2:40 p.m. CT
• Thursday: Cubs (Sean Marshall, 0-1, 4.50) vs. Marlins (Chris Volstad, 2-0, 2.70), 7:05 p.m. CT

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