Monday, Sept. 6, 2010
Updated 6:50 PM
By Patrick Mooney
Geovany Soto pointed at the board in the Cubs clubhouse and announced: That is not a misprint. He smiled as he walked away on Monday morning, turning his back and flexing his arms above his head.
Minutes later, a teammate looked at the posted lineup card that had the catcher batting fourth, and a confused look spread across his face: Soto? Really?
It doesnt matter to Soto where he hits now, even if the team is no longer anchored by Derrek Lee, and is trying to compensate for a diminished Aramis Ramirez. Coming into 2010, the Cubs couldnt be certain what they had in Soto, and they have struggled with run production for almost the entire season.
But by Labor Day, weve learned that Soto is profiling much closer to the player who was the National Leagues Rookie of the Year in 2008. The 27-year-old has distanced himself from last years disappointing line: .218 average11 homers47 RBI.
After rededicating himself back home in Puerto Rico, he transformed a body he described as fat, shedding weight down to a number thats listed at 218 pounds.
After last season I looked myself in the mirror, Soto said. I needed to make some adjustments and pick it up. I worked hard and now its paying off. Hopefully it will keep paying off.
The dividends could be seen as Sotos game-winning shot traveled out of Wrigley Field and onto Waveland Avenue. The solo home run with two outs in the eight inning cemented Mondays 5-4 comeback victory over the Houston Astros in front of 31,647 fans.
The Cubs (60-78) have conceded almost the entire second half of the season to player development. All the rookies in the room could probably learn something about consistency and professionalism from Soto, who looks like hes beginning to figure it out himself.
Hes a lot tougher than people know, manager Mike Quade said. Hes getting himself back to where he was his rookie year.
Soto stood his ground in the fourth inning, when Michael Bourn sprinted home on a groundball to third. Jeff Baker threw home, and Bourn was in Sotos airspace before the catcher could fully brace himself.
Bourn ran Soto over, but the catcher held onto the ball after the collision, making sure the Astros (64-73) didnt add an extra run to their 4-3 lead. Soto got up and continued to guide Casey Coleman through the fourth big-league start of his career. The 23-year-old right-hander walked five and gave up four runs in the second, but that was it as he lasted for six innings.
The goal is to keep the team in the game, Coleman said. You got to be able to move on. You got to be able to put some zeroes up. Even though it was a struggle, (Soto) settled me down, the defense made a few nice plays and the offense stepped up and really bailed me out.
As a group, the pitchers like working with Soto, who played for Quade at Triple-A Iowa in 2005 and 2006. But Soto didnt break out until his Pacific Coast League MVP season of 2007, which he finished with a .353 average, 26 homers and 109 RBI and playoff starts for the Cubs.
Soto did a really nice job for me, but didnt put up the offensive numbers, Quade said. He always blocked well. His throwing was ok. He called a good game. I liked everything about him defensively.
But offensively you were kind of wondering how good he was going to be or what he was going to be. At that position, he didnt need to hit .320 with 40 home runs. But you werent quite sure how we could (fit him in).
Soto recently dealt with shoulder and knee issues that have limited his numbers, but hes still on pace to be among the most productive catchers in baseball (.2841751 through 97 games). If he stays healthy and in the right frame of mind, that would be one less thing for the front office to worry about during what promises to be a long offseason.
I try to play hard, Soto said. I try to play the game the right way, even if its a blowout or a one-run game. Put it that way Im not selfish. Ill take a walk and just do anything to help my teammates out.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.