Esmailin Carida Almost Ready

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Rookie reliever Esmailin Caridad passed all the tests on Saturday in his one inning at the Cubs' facility in Mesa, Ariz., and the next step will be for him to pitch at Triple-A Iowa.

Caridad is expected to join the Minor League team on Tuesday. The right-hander has been on the disabled list since April 12 with a strained forearm.

"I don't think the performance is nearly as important as how he feels health-wise," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Sunday.

Caridad could rejoin the Cubs by the end of the week if he passes all the tests with the Triple-A team.

"What we're looking for is a couple appearances in Iowa and we'll see how he's doing," Piniella said. "If he's throwing the ball well, we'll have him here within the week. If not, we'll stay the way we are."

-- Carrie Muskat

No stopping Soriano's power stroke

CHICAGO -- Alfonso Soriano hit his third homer in as many games in the first inning against the D-backs on Sunday and is the first Cubs outfielder to homer in three consecutive games since he did so May 12-14, 2008.

Soriano hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning on Friday against Arizona, a game-tying two-run shot in the seventh on Saturday and a two-run drive in the first on Sunday. In the third inning on Sunday, Soriano hit his eighth double of the season. He then hit his second homer of the game with one runner on in the fifth. He's the first Cubs player to record a multihomer game this season, and it's the 24th multihomer game in his career. Soriano's last was last May 7 at Houston.

For the first time in his career, Soriano has 10 RBIs in his past three games, the first time he's done so since May 4-7, 2005, when he played for Texas.

Soriano seems to be doing well since being reunited with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.

"Rudy had him in Texas before, and he had success with him in Texas," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Soriano. "When a player has a confidence in a particular coach, whether it's a hitting coach or infield coach, they tend to work together pretty well.

"With Soriano, it's been a good marriage between the two," Piniella said. "At the same time, my job is to keep him rested. I know he doesn't like it when he's not in the lineup, but we'll continue to do that to keep him as fresh as we can."

Piniella is trying to rotate five outfielders in three spots this season, giving Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome, Xavier Nady and rookie Tyler Colvin playing time.

-- Carrie Muskat

Crowded outfield a pleasant problem

CHICAGO -- Manager Lou Piniella has said he would like to rotate the Cubs' five outfielders throughout the season. However, the task has proven more difficult than anticipated.

"I thought that it would be easier to get five outfielders playing," Piniella said. "We're going to do that. We're going to rest our outfielders. But it's been hard for me to get [Xavier] Nady in the lineup."

Piniella's starting outfielders aren't making it easy on him. The trio -- Kosuke Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd -- have combined to go 21-for-56 (.375) with five homers and 14 RBIs entering Sunday's series finale with the D-backs.

"I've got Fukudome that's swinging it, I've got Soriano that's swinging it and I've got Byrd that's swinging it," Piniella said.

Fukudome's hitting coach, Kyosuke Sasaki, spent the past week in Chicago to refine the right fielder's swing. Sasaki tried to lower Fukudome's body in his stance and be more compact. It worked. Fukudome went 10-for-23 with four home runs and nine RBIs in his last eight games entering Sunday.

"He's staying through the ball well," Piniella said. "He's driving the ball to the pull field and also he's hitting some balls out here to left field, which we've talked about being important for him because he stays on the ball much better. He's done a really nice job."

We'll see how Fukudome does without Sasaki, however, as the hitting coach returned to Japan before Sunday's game.

-- Matt Forman

Ramirez takes seat on bench

CHICAGO -- With Aramis Ramirez in the midst of a 5-for-25 homestand and with only one of those hits going for extra bases, manager Lou Piniella opted to give the third baseman a day off Sunday.

Chad Tracy started and batted fifth in place of Ramirez in the Cubs' last home game before a six-game road trip starts Tuesday, beginning with three games against the Pirates.

"This gives Ramirez today and Monday [off]," Piniella said. "It's a good day to give a player a day off."

The break will give Ramirez two days to clear his mind. He is hitting .155 with three home runs and 14 RBIs, and hasn't homered since April 15.

The two-day break isn't something new. Piniella didn't start Ramirez on April 22-23, so he could work with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Since those off-days, Ramirez has gone 6-for-29 with five RBIs and two strikeouts.

Still, Piniella has confidence that his 12-year pro will work through his early-season struggles. In fact, Ramirez, had strung together a six-game hitting streak before Saturday's 0-for-4 performance.

"He's a veteran guy," Piniella said. "I could see it becoming mental for a younger player, but the older veterans got to keep plugging along and working. If they were a young player I would definitely say that mental would come into the equation. But the veteran player, he's been through the wars before. I'm sure Ramirez has had spurts or times when he's struggled. The only surprising thing is the amount of the strikeouts."

Ramirez struck out 24 times in as many April games. By comparison, Ramirez struck out 17 times in 26 April games in 2008. He missed eight games last April, but he whiffed seven times in 13 games.

Ramirez hasn't been a notoriously slow starter during his career, though his .257 April batting average is the lowest for any month. In addition, his 146 strikeouts are second most behind only July.

Asked what he did as a player to break out of slumps, Piniella quipped, "I put more money in the basket on Sunday."

-- Matt Forman

Cubs support Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Several of the Cubs players attended Saturday night's Blackhawks playoff game against the Canucks, who defeated Chicago, 5-1.

"I'm rooting for good hockey," said pitcher Ryan Dempster, whose allegiances are torn since he's Canadian and also living and working in Chicago.

Reliever James Russell, who wore his Blackhawks jersey personalized with "The Animal" on the back, was among the many disappointed fans as the Canucks opened a quick 5-0 lead.

"That's a big lead in baseball -- imagine that in hockey, it's crazy," Russell said. "It's always fun. I wish we could catch them on a win."

Russell has been to two Blackhawks games but the team has lost both times.

"I'd like to go back -- I really like the games," he said. "I was talking to [Randy] Wells and some of the guys and if they win the [Stanley] Cup, I say we take [batting practice] in our hockey jerseys. I think that'd be awesome." ... p;c_id=chc

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