Ramirez Not Far From Return

Aramis Ramirez (STAFF PHOTO/PAM DAVIS)

Third baseman Aramis Ramirez is inching toward his return to the active roster.

Ramirez, who dislocated his shoulder May 8, has graduated from taking soft-toss pitches with a fungo bat to using his own bat.

The next step will be live batting practice, which could come this week in Detroit or over the weekend at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

From there, Ramirez most likely will need a minor league rehab stint so he can see live pitching. The best-case scenario has Ramirez coming back at the end of next week, but the Cubs say it's too early to know if that will happen.

The absence of Ramirez has been felt on several fronts. First, he had been the Cubs' most productive offensive player. Second, the Cubs have been forced to overwork some of their position players to pick up the slack.

Manager Lou Piniella wanted to rest three regulars Monday night in Atlanta, but he settled for resting left fielder Alfonso Soriano and right fielder Milton Bradley. Piniella wanted to give shortstop Ryan Theriot the night off, but he used Theriot as his leadoff man in place of Soriano.

The Cubs played Sunday in Chicago and Monday in Atlanta before heading to Detroit for Tuesday's opener of a three-game interleague series.

BRAVES 2, CUBS 0: RHP Ryan Dempster turned in a quality start -- 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball -- but the Cubs' four-game winning streak was snapped. Cubs batters left 12 runners stranded and were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHP Angel Guzman was placed on the 15-day DL Sunday with a right triceps strain. The ailment has bothered Guzman for about 10 days, but the Cubs said it's not serious. They recalled RHP Kevin Hart from Class AAA Iowa (Des Moines). Guzman said he could be ready within five or six days, but the Cubs didn't want to take a chance on overtaxing their bullpen. Hart was 3-3 with a 3.10 ERA at Iowa in 22 games, six starts. The Cubs will use him in middle relief.

--RHP Randy Wells won his first career decision in his eighth start. Wells is 1-3 with an ERA of 2.57, but he's been victimized by some back luck in his earlier starts. "It was pretty nerve-wracking," said Wells of waiting out the victory after the bullpen took over. "I tried to stay in the weight room for most of it."

ROSTER REPORT

--1B Derrek Lee extended his hitting streak to a personal-best 19 games. Lee has reached base safely in 29 games in a row. His hitting streak is the longest by a Cub since Soriano hit safely in 20 straight in 2007.

--LHP Sean Marshall saw action for a third straight day as he relieved Dempster in the seventh inning. Marshall gave up two hits and no runs over the three relief appearances. He is 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA as a reliever. Marshall has made eight starts.

--Soriano got a rest after going 1-for-5 Sunday. He's mired in a deep slump. He's 18-for-118 (.153) over his last 27 games and hasn't homered since June 7. Jake Fox replaced Soriano in left field, going 2-for-5, including a strikeout to end the game.

--Dempster threw 118 pitches, three shy of his season high, in 6 2/3 innings. His record fell to 4-5, but he has a 3.83 ERA. After walking six against the White Sox last week, he walked four in Atlanta.

--Theriot led off for the fourth time this year, going 2-for-5. The Cubs are 0-4 in games Theriot has led off.

--Hart pitched a scoreless eighth inning in his first appearance since Sunday's call-up from Class AAA Iowa (Des Moines). Hart had been working as a starter at Iowa, and he said that forced him to use and develop all of his pitches.

--OF Reed Johnson was unavailable against the Braves because of back spasms that knocked him out of Sunday's start against the Indians in Chicago. Johnson's back has bothered him from time to time. The Cubs say they'll closely monitor the situation.

MINOR LEAGUES

TENNESSEE 2, MONTGOMERY 0 (CLASS AA)

At Montgomery, Ala., the Smokies (33-38, 1-0) held the Biscuits to four hits to open the second half of Southern League play Monday. CF Jim Adduci and LF Russ Canzler (both 2-for-4) led the Smokies in hits. RHP Jay Jackson (4-3) started and won his fourth straight decision, tossing five scoreless innings and allowing one hit. He struck out five batters without allowing a walk to lower his ERA to 2.95 in 11 starts.

DAYTONA 10, LAKELAND 2 (CLASS HIGH-A)

At Lakeland, Fla., the Cubs (32-31, 1-0) collected 16 hits to open the second half of the Florida State League season Monday. Six players had multi-hit games, including SS Starlin Castro (3-for-5, triple) and RF Brandon Guyer (3-for-4, double, two RBI). LHP James Leverton (4-7) started and picked up the win, allowing one earned run and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out two and walked one.

TRI-CITY 7, BOISE 5 (CLASS LOW-A, SS)

At Boise, the Dust Devils closed with five unanswered runs to take the victory Monday. The Hawks (0-3) collected nine hits in the loss. SS Hak-Ju Lee (2-for-4, RBI) picked up two hits for the third straight night to open the season. DH Logan Watkins (2-for-4, two RBI) also added two hits. RHP Andres Quezada (0-1) suffered the loss in relief, allowing two runs and three hits in two innings. He struck out four without allowing a walk. RHP Su-Min Jung made his professional debut and pitched four innings in the start without allowing an earned run. He allowed two hits and struck out three.

ATHLETICS 6, CUBS 4 (ARIZONA ROOKIE LEAGUE)

At Phoenix, the Cubs (1-1) collected six hits in the loss Monday. 1B Justin Bour (1-for-4), the Cubs' 25th-round pick from George Mason, homered, and DH Charles Thomas (1-for-4, RBI), the Cubs' 10th-round pick, tripled in his professional debut. RHP Eduardo Figueroa started and tossed four innings, allowing one run and six hits. RHP Rogelio Carmona (0-1) suffered the loss in relief, allowing two runs and two hits in two-thirds of an inning.

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