Updated: June 13, 2008, 8:15 AM ET

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AP Photo/Jerry Lai

An errant Jeff Bennett pitch breaks the hand of Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano

Bad news day for NL Central leaders

The Cubs lead the National League Central with 42 wins and 24 losses, baseball's best record. The surprising Cardinals are right behind them with a 40-27 mark. Both clubs received bad news on Wednesday, however, as stars Alfonso Soriano and Albert Pujols are each looking down the barrel OF an extended stay on the disabled list.

Soriano had been playing like a first-round pick, hitting .325 and slugging .643 since returning from a calf injury on May 1, but Wednesday he suffered a broken left hand after being hit by a pitch from Atlanta's Jeff Bennett. He'll be in a splint for a least three weeks, and is not expected to return before the beginning of August at the earliest.

The last time Soriano was hurt, the Cubs handed second baseman Mark DeRosa the bulk of the vacated outfield at-bats, while reserve infielder Mike Fontenot replaced DeRosa at the keystone. It shouldn't be much different this time around. DeRosa will occupy Soriano's left field spot much of the time, while Fontenot will again be the prime beneficiary of his absence. Soriano's injury will also mean more outfield starts for Reed Johnson, as well as a few more at-bats for recently recalled pinch hitter Micah Hoffpair, who is a first baseman by trade but can also handle an outfield corner.

Pujols left Tuesday's game at Cincinnati with a calf injury, but after reevaluation Wednesday back in St. Louis, it was determined that the slugger will need to miss at least three weeks with what the club has termed a bad strain.

Pujols' injury opens the door for banished slugger Chris Duncan to return to the majors. Duncan, demoted to Triple-A at the end of May to work on his swing, will be recalled to take on the bulk of the first base responsibilities versus right-handed pitching. Outfielder Joe Mather will get the first opportunity to fill the void against left-handers. If Mather falters, third baseman Troy Glaus could move across the diamond against lefties, with reserve infielder Brendan Ryan stepping in at the hot corner.

Past editions: 6/11: Redemption on the mound | 6/10: ChiSox rolling | 6/9: Masterson

Box Score Bits

Mariners closer J.J. Putz left Wednesday's save chance with elbow soreness, but Brandon Morrow came in to retire three straight batters. Putz has not shown his usual velocity all year, and if he is shelved with injury, Morrow would assume closing duties immediately. Morrow has exceptional stuff but exhibited control problems both in the minors and in last year's debut campaign. He's been better this season, issuing only seven walks in 18 innings to accompany his 25 strikeouts. … Putz and Morrow were only needed Wednesday because starter Felix Hernandez, in the midst of a gem against the Blue Jays, could not finish the game due to a calf strain. … Indians catcher Victor Martinez, still without a home run on the year, left Wednesday's game in the first inning with a sore elbow. The elbow has been bothering Martinez all season. He'll have an MRI soon, and Kelly Shoppach will start behind the plate in his absence. … Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb only managed five innings in Wednesday's outing and was clocked at no higher than 89 mph. Webb said afterward that he's suffering from a dead arm phase. He'll get an extra day of rest before facing Oakland on Tuesday. … Mets outfielder Moises Alou could be headed back to the disabled list just a day after returning from it. The 42-year old felt his injured calf flare up again on Wednesday, and did not return to action following an hour-long rain delay. … Yankees starter Darrell Rasner was hammered for seven runs in three and two-thirds innings versus Oakland. He could still be worth holding in AL-only leagues, as he faces the Padres next and the Yankees don't have many viable options to replace him until Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy is healthy. … Struggling Tigers starter Justin Verlander turned in his best outing of the year Wednesday, tossing a four-hitter against a White Sox team that's had his number in the past. … Rangers outfielder David Murphy continued his rookie-of-the-year campaign, blasting two home runs and driving in five in a victory over the Royals. … Cardinals right-hander Braden Looper earned his first career shutout, tossing a three-hitter against the Reds. … Cincinnati infielder Jolbert Cabrera's start at second base Wednesday was simply a routine day off for Brandon Phillips. … Pirates starter Ian Snell won for the first time in 11 starts, striking out six Nationals batters in six innings of one-run ball. … Padres veteran Randy Wolf struck out nine and walked one to defeat the Dodgers with seven innings of one-run ball. Wolf has posted a 2.68 ERA in six starts at pitcher-friendly Petco Park. He's struck out 33 batters while walking only nine in 37 innings at home.


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Standing Out

DUCH TREAT
Justin Duchscherer, A's
The former setup man turned in his sixth quality start in seven tries, holding the Yankees to a run on five hits and a walk while striking out four. Duchscherer is now 6-4 with a 2.20 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP.

FLASH EXPLOSION
Tom Gordon, Phillies
After the Phillies had tied the game in the top of the ninth, Gordon, who has five wins in relief this season, was entrusted with keeping the game tied. He retired only one batter as he loaded the bases on a hit and two walks before allowing a walk-off grand slam to Dan Uggla.
News and Notes

Braves ace John Smoltz underwent surgery Wednesday, and the doctors found more significant damage than expected in the labrum of his right shoulder. Retirement is still a definite possibility. … Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, on the disabled list since June 3 with a labrum tear in his non-throwing shoulder, underwent an MRI Wednesday. The results revealed that he's still a month or two away from returning, and that surgery may eventually be necessary. … Injured Tigers relievers Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney are progressing on their rehab assignments and could both return as soon as next week. … Rangers manager Ron Washington confirmed Wednesday that Joaquin Benoit will be used earlier in games and that Eddie Guardado will act as closer C.J. Wilson's primary setup man.

They Said It

"It's a major blow to the St. Louis Cardinals not only for what Albert Pujols does when he's at the plate, but the impact he has on the rest of the lineup. You talk about Ryan Ludwick, what a great season he's having, well the reason he's getting pitches to hit is because Albert Pujols is behind him in the lineup. Expect Ludwick to get pitched to differently."

-- Steve Phillips BBTN Minute ESPN Video

Transactions

• The Marlins have designated outfielder Jacque Jones for assignment, recalling Robert Andino to take his roster spot. Cody Ross and Alfredo Amezaga will be the beneficiaries of Jones' dismissal.

• Veteran Braves left-hander Tom Glavine is hitting the disabled list for the second time this year. Glavine, who had not made a DL trip in his first 21 seasons, admitted that he'd been pitching with a sore left elbow for weeks. He'll have an MRI soon, but it looks like he could miss significant time.

• The Braves also returned outfielder Josh Anderson to the minors, recalling top outfield prospect Brandon Jones to replace him.

• Top Tigers setup man Aquilino Lopez has been activated from the bereavement list. Lopez has been the Tigers' best reliever this year and -- given the absence of bullpen mainstays Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney -- would close if something happened to stopper Todd Jones.

On The Farm

• Rehabbing Oakland outfielder Ryan Sweeney went 3-for-4 with a home run and a double for Triple-A Sacramento on Wednesday. Sweeney is hitting .414 on his rehab assignment and could be activated as soon as Friday. His return will cost Carlos Gonzalez or Emil Brown playing time.

• Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki finally began a rehab assignment Wednesday, playing five innings in the field at Class A Modesto.

• Madison Bumgarner, one of the Giants' top pitching prospects, had another scoreless outing in Class A ball Wednesday. Bumgarner, 18, is on the fast track for a promotion, as he's struck out 74 batters while walking only 10 in 64 innings, posting a 1.96 ERA in the process.