Cubs Owe Debt of Gratitude to Hill

Cubs catcher Geovany Soto is scheduled to come off the disabled list and start Friday's series opener at Colorado.

That should give the Cubs offense a much-needed boost, but the team owes a big debt of gratitude to backup catcher Koyie Hill.

Hill, 30, took over the primary catching duties July 7, when Soto came down with a strained left oblique muscle, and Hill started every game through Wednesday.

"He's just been a workhorse," Cubs Assistant GM Randy Bush said of Hill. "And our record when he's behind the plate over any part of the last three years has been outstanding. It's not a coincidence."

Hill has started behind the plate 26 games in a row, and the Cubs have gone 16-10 in that span. He became the first Cubs catcher to start more than 25 in a row since Jody Davis started 38 in a row in 1986.

Hill joined some other select company. He became just the third Cubs catcher in the last 50 years to start more than 25 in a row behind the plate. Randy Hundley had seven such streaks from 1966-70, and Davis had two, in 1982 and '86.

"He does a great job with our pitching staff and we just can't say enough about what he's meant to our major league club and the effort that he has given us," Bush said.

Soto was the NL Rookie of the Year last season. In addition to the oblique strain, he has been bothered by hand and shoulder problems this season. He has played in 69 games this year, batting .230 with eight homers and 27 RBIs. Last season, he batted .285 with 23 homers and 86 RBIs. While rehabbing this week at Class AA Tennessee, Soto hit two homers in three games.

NOTES

--CF Kosuke Fukudome looks entrenched as the Cubs' leadoff hitter, even against left-handed pitching. With OF Reed Johnson still on the disabled list with a broken left foot, Fukudome has seen the bulk of the playing time in center and at the leadoff spot. The Cubs are 13-7 when Fukudome starts in the leadoff spot.

--RHP Kevin Gregg pitched one inning in Wednesday's finale after sitting out two straight games with a "tired arm." Gregg worked a 1-2-3 eighth at Cincinnati. He had blown two straight save chances last weekend at Florida. Gregg has 21 saves in 26 chances. His .808 save percentage was 13th in the NL entering play Thursday.

--LHP Ted Lilly threw a bullpen session Wednesday, and the Cubs feel he may be ahead of schedule. Lilly is recovering from knee surgery and left shoulder inflammation. Lilly has talked of being back by next week, but the Cubs may hold off until the week of Aug. 17-23.

--RF Milton Bradley raised his on-base percentage to .389 with a walk and a single in three plate appearances Wednesday. Bradley's .436 OBP with Texas last year led the American League. The Cubs would like to see more power from Bradley, who also led the AL in on-base-plus-slugging percentage last year (.999). Bradley has eight homers and just 26 RBIs this year, with a slugging percentage of .385. He's hitting .210 as a left-handed batter and .351 from the right side.

--RHP Carlos Zambrano starts Friday's opener at Coors Field, where he is 0-2 lifetime with a 4.12 ERA. The Cubs will keep a close eye on Zambrano. He left his most recent start, last Saturday at Florida, after three innings with a stiff back.

--It appears that either OF Sam Fuld or 1B/OF Micah Hoffpauir will be optioned out Friday when the Cubs activate Soto off the disabled list. If the Cubs keep Fuld, the likely reason will be the big outfield at Coors Field. Hoffpauir provides a power option in hitter-friendly Coors. --The Sports XChange

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