Soto's crash course extends to Astros

Soto's crash course extends to Astros

Geovany Soto is going to have some growing pains this season.

On Thursday, he had to deal with a couple of extra bruises after Soto and Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks collided at home plate in the first inning. Weeks was trying to score on Prince Fielder's sacrifice fly to right, and did. Cubs right fielder Kosuke Fukudome threw home, but the throw was a little off. Soto never got the ball.

"He's trying to score a run, I'm trying to get the ball and tag him out -- it's part of the game," Soto said. "I took the hit, and unfortunately the other run came in. I felt all right.

"If I'm blocking the plate, you're going to get hit."

Tony Gwynn Jr., who had been on second and advanced on the fly ball, scored as the ball got away from Soto.

"Soto was coming up the line just a little bit to get the throw, and they bumped pretty hard," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.

"I've been hit harder than that," the rookie catcher said.

It's all part of the crash course Soto is taking to get acclimated to the big leagues.

Before games, he's in the video room. He's been watching the Cubs pitchers as well as opposing hitters. On Thursday, he was on the field early working with coach Matt Sinatro on refining his throws to second.

"I have to work every day," Soto said. "Even if I make good throws, or if I haven't, you have to keep on top of your game and keep it sharp and go out and work at it."

The Brewers were 5-for-5 on stolen-base attempts in the three-game series against Soto and the Cubs. The rookie knows teams will test him, and he'll be cramming for the three-game series against the Houston Astros, which begins Friday.

"You want it," Soto said of challenges. "You want to have people run at you. You want to have confidence in yourself that you will have the outs at second. The best catchers in the world only throw 50 percent, and that's awesome. They're going to steal bases. It's a matter of you making good throws. You can take them out at second, it's just a matter of time."

On Wednesday, Soto hit a solo homer, and on Thursday, he had a sacrifice fly in the Cubs' 6-3 win.

"It felt good," he said of his homer. "It would've felt a lot better if I hit the home run and didn't make the error."

The mistake occurred in the sixth inning on Wednesday. Corey Hart walked, stole second, then stole third, and was able to score on Soto's errant throw trying to get another base runner. On Thursday, he was involved in the collision at home with Weeks in the first inning.

It's all part of the learning process. On Thursday, Soto paused long enough to talk before heading to the lunch room for a quick snack.

"I was just in the video room talking about the hitters with [Ryan] Dempster," Soto said. "I'm seeing the videos and trying to get as much as I can from that, and from their swings. I'm learning."

Pitching matchup
CHC: LHP Rich Hill (11-8, 3.92 ERA in 2007)
Hill had a spring he'd probably rather forget. The lefty did not walk a batter in 15 2/3 innings in 2007 Cactus League play, but in 1 1/3 innings, he walked six. It wasn't pretty. He has to concentrate on keeping his shoulders level and his mechanics in line, and then he'll be fine. He was 1-0 with a 3.32 ERA in three starts against the Astros last year.

HOU: RHP Chris Sampson (7-8, 4.59 ERA in 2007)
Sampson, who made the season-opening rotation for the second straight year, was 7-8 with a 4.59 ERA and a career-high 51 strikeouts over 24 appearances in 2007. He struck out a career-high eight batters last April 28, against the Brewers. But he missed the last part of the season because of an elbow strain.

Tidbits
Piniella downplayed all the hit batters in the three-game series and blamed the cold weather. "The ball's slick, and it's cold," Piniella said. "None of it was intentional." ... Felix Pie was hit on the right hand in the eighth inning but stayed in the game. If he can't go, Reed Johnson will start in center field. ... Derrek Lee is 2-for-3 against Sampson, including a home run. Lance Berkman is 1-for-7 against Hill, but that one hit is a homer. ... The Cubs have corrected the lettering on the new Ernie Banks statue and added the apostrophe in "Let's Play Two." It was missing when the statue was unveiled on Monday. ... Micah Hoffpauir, who finished among the top 10 National League batters this spring, strained his oblique Tuesday in an exhibition game between Triple-A Iowa and the University of Iowa. He was placed on the disabled list and headed to Arizona to rehab.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• CSN Chicago

On radio
• WGN 720

Up next
• Saturday: Cubs (Jason Marquis, 12-9, 4.60 in 2007) vs. Astros (Roy Oswalt, 0-1, 5.06), 12:05 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Cubs (Carlos Zambrano, 0-0, 0.00) vs. Astros (Brandon Backe, 0-1, 3.60), 1:20 p.m. CT
• Monday: Cubs (Ted Lilly, 0-1, 7.71) at Pirates (Tom Gorzelanny, 0-1, 4.50), 12:35 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.