Successful Rehab for Soto

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. – Cubs catcher Geovany Soto didn't waste any time shaking off the cobwebs in his first rehab start with the Tennessee Smokies on Monday night. Soto drove the first pitch he saw into left field for an RBI single and never looked back.

Soto is not only the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, but is also the only rookie to ever start for the National League in the All-Star game.

Soto was here rehabbing from an oblique injury that he first suffered while warming up for an afternoon game at Wrigley Field in early July.

"It was my first round of batting practice that day. We were playing a day game and on one swing, it just kind of grabbed me. I went back for my second round of batting practice and it really grabbed me. I almost couldn't move to that side," Soto said of the injury.

This was the first time Soto has worn a Smokies uniform, but it is not his first go-round in the Southern League. Soto played in 104 games for former Cubs Double-A affiliate West Tennessee in 2004 while he was working his way to the big leagues.

Soto was welcomed to Smokies Park with a warm ovation from the 3,415 fans on hand Monday night and he didn't disappoint. He caught five innings for the Smokies and went 1-for-2 with an RBI and a walk.

Soto also left the park with a lofty impression of top Cubs pitching prospect Andrew Cashner, who lowered his Double-A ERA to 0.88 Monday night.

"He's commanding his fastball. He's learning to use his fastball. He mixes his breaking pitches in there and his fastball is overpowering. He needs to trust his stuff," Soto said of Cashner.

"He's pitching with great maturity. He's got great talent, too. He's a young guy and it's good to see."

Soto's rehab continued in the right direction on Tuesday night when he showed that the oblique strain is not affecting his power by blasting a line drive home run while going 1-for-3 with an RBI and catching four innings. Soto was expected to catch seven innings on Tuesday, but a rain delay altered the plan.

Soto saved his best performance for Wednesday night when he launched a 2-2 pitch over the left field wall for a two-run home run to break a 3-3 tie with Carolina. Soto caught his expected nine innings on Wednesday.

The Smokies had been struggling for offensive production from the catching position since Steve Clevenger was promoted to Triple-A Iowa on May 27. Although Soto will be on his way back to the big leagues Thursday, things are looking up for Smokies catcher Welington Castillo, who received a well deserved rest when Soto came to town.

The Smokies' offense has started to click while winning nine of their last 10 games since manager Ryne Sandberg has returned from Hall of Fame and other obligations. The offensive turnaround is largely due to Castillo, who despite batting around .200 all season has hit .382 in his last 10 games leading up to Soto's rehab assignment.

Nevertheless, getting Soto healthy and back into a Cubs uniform is the organization's main goal. And judging by the way he tormented Double-A pitching during his three-day rehab stint, things are right on track for Soto to meet up with the Cubs in Colorado on Thursday and rejoin the starting lineup over the weekend.

"I feel really good. I didn't feel it (oblique) at all doing anything: throwing, blocking, hitting. I didn't feel it at all so that is a good sign," Soto said.

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