DENVER -- If 26 consecutive games behind the plate seemed like an eternity to catcher Koyie Hill, it may have been even longer for Geovany Soto. Soto, the Cubs' starting catcher, missed nearly a month with a left oblique strain but was activated from the disabled list before Friday's series opener vs. the Rockies and batted fifth.

"It was tough, but my main concern was to get ready and come back as soon as possible," Soto said. "You get a little antsy being out for a month. Watching the game was kind of tormenting myself. I was in a bad mood, but it's good to finally be ready to go."

Soto went on the DL on July 11 and was hot just before the injury, hitting .281 (18-for-64) in the 20-game stretch from June 14-July 11, with five homers, six doubles, 12 RBIs and a 1.009 OPS.

"I'm feeling really, really good," Soto said, following a three-game rehab assignment in Double-A. "I want to keep going like I was in July."

Soto's up-and-down season follows up on his debut campaign of 2008 in which he took home the National League Rookie of the Year Award, hit .285 with 23 homers and 86 RBIs.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella is happy to have him back in the lineup, rested and ready to play.

"Soto's our No. 1 catcher," Lou Piniella emphasized before Friday's game. "He can hit the ball for some power and drive in some runs for us, so we're hoping that's what he does."

Hill's impressive 26-game starting streak behind the plate was the longest stretch for a Cubs catcher since Jody Davis started 38 consecutives games behind the dish in 1986, and the feat was not lost on Soto.

"Unbelievable," Soto said of the stretch, during which Hill caught 30 more innings than the next-closest catcher in the Majors. "That's very impressive and shows you how he's a team player. He'll do anything he can for a team. It's incredible."

In a corresponding roster move, the Cubs optioned Micah Hoffpauir to Triple-A Iowa. Hoffpauir was hitting .233 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 81 games with Chicago. Recent callup Sam Fuld was able to keep his spot on the roster while the team juggled its need for a backup center fielder behind Kosuke Fukudome.

"The one situation obviously without Reed [Johnson] on the club right now, if something happened to Fukudome, it would be a little difficult in center field, and this park obviously makes the decision easier," general manager Jim Hendry said Friday. "Hoffpauir also knows that he hasn't swung the bat lately like he's capable, so our way of thinking is that going down there and playing every day and getting four at-bats a night certainly would be helpful for him, have him come back and help us down the stretch. But the first and foremost criteria is you got to have somebody on the bench who can play center field, especially in this ballpark."

Hoffpauir took the news in stride and is determined to work his way back to the club for a September callup.

"I don't think I've lost my ability to hit," Hoffpauir said. "I just haven't performed. I think a lot of it's pitch selection and trying to do too much instead of just hitting. My goal is to go down and get myself right and hopefully help out in September."