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Hill proves mettle, plays with exposed toe

Hill proves mettle, plays with exposed toe

MILWAUKEE -- Koyie Hill is one tough dude, having proved that by surviving a freak table-saw accident that severed three of his fingers and his thumb. On Saturday he was behind the plate for the Cubs, and his right little toe was exposed to balls, bats and everything else.

Hill was hit by a pitch on the right side of his foot in the eighth inning on Friday but stayed in the game. He's the Cubs' only option behind the plate while Geovany Soto rehabs from inflammation in his right shoulder. Soto can't throw, and now Hill can't walk in his shoes because of the pain.

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Cubs trainers sliced open a portion of Hill's shoe so that it wouldn't rub against the toe. They're hoping he doesn't reinjure it.

"After [Sunday] we have to come to a decision," manager Lou Piniella said. "We can't continue to carry one catcher. ... We're hurting now at that position. We're not trying to rush Geo back, but it's very, very difficult to carry one catcher for an extended period of time. We're hoping that [on Sunday] he throws and is a lot more comfortable and that at least he could be available for backup duty."

Soto did tell Piniella that he was feeling better after doing his exercises on Thursday and Friday, and he planned on testing his arm on Sunday. Soto, the 2008 National League Rookie of the Year, has been out since last Tuesday. Infielder Aaron Miles has been warming up the pitchers between innings and is the emergency catcher if needed.

Hill would not be playing because of his foot.

"If you look at his foot, they cut the shoe out so he has his bare toe exposed," Piniella said. "He's a tough kid. At the same time, it's hard enough to catch if you're 100 percent physically. Let's hope he gets through it. That's why [Sunday] is important with Geo."

Hill shouldered a lot of the blame for Friday's loss, a 4-3 come-from-behind win for Milwaukee.

"First of all, Hill was very hard on himself [on Friday], and I talked to him about it," Piniella said. "I said, 'You let me be hard on myself. You guys just play and let me handle that area.' "

Hill took responsibility for calling a 3-2 slider from closer Kevin Gregg with one out in the ninth against Chris Duffy, who drew a walk. Duffy eventually scored the game-tying run.

"Looking back on it, I would have challenged Duffy instead of trying to strike him out," Hill said on Saturday. "We don't need a strikeout there. If he had taken a 3-2 fastball out of here, I could have probably lived with that."

It's all part of a learning process that Hill, Piniella, Gregg and others are going through.

"The pitcher can shake off," Piniella said. "I can put down all the fingers I want, and he can still go 'No.' I thought it was a split-finger myself -- I didn't know it was a slider. In a tie ballgame, with a reserve outfielder in the ballgame who is still cold and not loose from playing nine innings, I think you take your chances with the best percentage pitch you can to throw a strike, that's all I'm saying.

"Once in a while, we do call [pitches] from [the dugout], but very seldom," he added. "Usually, our ideas are pretty good. You can see a lot from here, and how a hitter reacts to a pitch, if he's late, how he takes a curveball."

Piniella's school of thought is that walks can beat you, and he'd prefer to take a chance of getting the ball hit at somebody.

Saturday is a new game, and a new day. Friday is over.

"It's very 'Monday quarterbacks' stuff," Hill said of the analyzing. "It can get very hindsight-ish, you could say. We have reasons for why we do stuff. We work very closely with these guys, and we know who can throw pitches and what pitches in crucial times, and Kevin Gregg is a guy who's very confident throwing any of his pitches at any time.

"We've got some guys in the bullpen who are like that. [Carlos] Marmol is one of them, Kevin Gregg is one of them. Going into the last couple of innings of a game with the lead, I feel if we have a lead in the sixth inning, we should win the game. Most of the time, we will. Last night we didn't, but it's nothing like, 'Oh, no, something's wrong.' Nothing's wrong. It happened."

Hill was told that fans are panicking.

"It's so early," he said.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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