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Hill to get breather with Soto's return

Hill to get breather with Soto's return

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CINCINNATI -- Koyie Hill will finally get a chance to catch his breath.

Catcher Geovany Soto, the 2008 National League Rookie of the Year, returns on Friday when the Cubs open a four-game series against the Colorado Rockies, currently the NL Wild Card leaders.

Soto has been out since July 7 because of a strained left oblique and played three games this week with Double-A Tennessee. He tuned up with a home run Tuesday in his third at-bat. The Cubs will make another roster move on Friday.

Hill, who started his 26th straight game behind the plate Wednesday, carried the workload while Soto was away. He's only the third Cubs catcher in the past 50 years to start more than 25 games in a row, joining Randy Hundley and Jody Davis. Hill is the first to go more than 25 in a row since Davis started 38 straight in 1986.

"He really saved us," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said of Hill. "It's so out of the norm to catch 25 games in a row. It's a tremendous effort, he's a tremendous team player, a mentally tough guy, and we seem to win a lot of ballgames when he catches."

Hill has been behind the plate for 223 frames since July 7, which is far and away more than any other catcher currently in the Majors. Russell Martin entered Wednesday's play second about 36 innings -- or four games -- behind Hill, having caught 189 2/3 innings in a row.

The 225-plus innings is more than Hill has caught in one season in his big league career. Last year, as the backup to Soto and Henry Blanco, he saw some playing time in September, and totaled 42 2/3 innings.

For catchers like Hundley, Davis, Thurman Munson, and Carlton Fisk, 26 straight games was nothing.

"Before, it was a little more common than -- now, no," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "You can see we've had Soto for nearly two years and he hasn't caught that many games in succession."

Don't think Hill will suddenly be delegated to simply warming up pitchers between innings once Soto returns. The Cubs are 28-17 in his starts.

"We know the record," Piniella said. "He's done a really, really nice job, and we're appreciative, but we have to get Soto ready to catch, too. It might be 60-40, two-thirds, one-third, I don't know exactly how [they'll share playing time]. Believe me, we're not going to go strictly one way."

The Cubs need to play better than they did Wednesday in a 4-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Piniella and some of the players saw a lack of intensity in the game.

"The baseball season is a grind," Hill said. "It's my belief that what we're trying to accomplish here, and what every team is trying to accomplish, is bigger than one person and everybody has to be accountable to what they bring to the ballpark every day. Twenty-four other guys, the coaching staff, the organization and fans are counting on you.

"It's tough because it is every day," Hill said. "It's a grind. Nothing's come easy for us. You're going to go through those days. We can regroup tomorrow and have a nice refresher."

And getting Soto back?

"It'll definitely help to get his bat back in the lineup," Hill said.

The Cubs and Rockies split a brief two-game series in April at Wrigley Field. Former Cubs pitcher Jason Marquis, a 12-game winner who is slated to go Saturday against Ryan Dempster, picked up a win in the second game of that early meeting.

Pitching matchup
CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano (7-4, 3.35 ERA)
Zambrano had to come out of his last start after three innings because of back stiffness. He gave up two runs on three hits in the brief outing, his shortest of the season. He will be vying for his fourth straight win. On the road, Zambrano is 5-2 with a 3.17 ERA. The right-hander is winless in three starts at Coors Field.

COL: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (8-9, 3.76 ERA)
Was the gun at Great American Ball Park a little off Saturday night? It clocked Jimenez as reaching 100 mph on multiple occasions. But that actually wasn't important. Jimenez and catcher Yorvit Torrealba realized the Reds were sitting on his fastball, no matter how hard he threw it. So Jimenez went eight innings and didn't let a runner past first base after the second inning. He struck out eight in a 6-2 Rockies victory. In his next start, Jimenez will face the Cubs at Coors Field, where he is 4-4 with a 3.99 ERA.

Tidbits
Ryan Theriot is expected back in the lineup Friday. He was held out of Wednesday's game after suffering a bruise on his right arm when he was hit by a pitch. ... Jeff Stevens was optioned to Triple-A Iowa to make room for infielder Aaron Miles, who was activated from the disabled list Wednesday. ... WGN Radio's Ron Santo will miss the weekend series. Dave Otto will fill in. ... J.R. Mathes gave up three runs, two earned, on seven hits over six innings in Iowa's 3-1 loss to New Orleans. So Taguchi had two hits, including a solo homer. ... Hung-Wen Chen gave up five runs on six hits over three innings in Tennessee's 9-8 loss to Carolina. ... Brett Jackson, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, hit his first home run in Peoria's 7-4, 14-inning win over Beloit. Jackson had three hits and three RBIs. DJ LeMahieu had two hits, including a triple, and two RBIs. Michael Brenly extended his hitting streak to seven games. ... Hak-Ju Lee and Logan Watkins each homered for Boise in a 6-4 loss to Everett.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

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

On television
• CSN

On radio
• WGN 720

Up next
• Saturday: Cubs (Ryan Dempster, 5-5, 4.09) at Rockies (Jason Marquis, 12-7, 3.49), 7:10 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Cubs (Randy Wells, 8-4, 2.73) at Rockies (Jason Hammel, 6-6, 4.62), 2:10 p.m. CT
• Monday: Cubs (Tom Gorzelanny, 4-1, 3.38) at Rockies (TBD), 7:40 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.

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