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08/03/08 8:16 PM ET

Soto offers silly solace to pitchers

Chicago (67-45) vs. Houston (53-57), Monday, 6:05 p.m. CT

CHICAGO -- Catcher Geovany Soto has a secret for calming down his pitchers.


Soto visited Carlos Zambrano on the mound early in Sunday's game for a pep talk, or at least that's what it looked like.

"He didn't say anything," Zambrano said. "He just went up there. That was kind of funny. He was moving his chin, looking like he was talking. But he wasn't saying anything."

The technique, which is becoming a Soto routine, works. Zambrano went on to throw five innings, giving up just one earned run and retired his final 12 batters.

"I just went up there and stared at him and made it look like I was talking, but I really wasn't saying anything," Soto said. "I was shaking my head, moving my hands. I was looking at him, just sort of relaxing him. He'll probably say, 'What's he doing?' I really didn't have anything to say. I was just giving him a breather, calming him down, being a little sarcastic."

Soto's quirk may come in handy for the Cubs again during this homestand. They begin a three-game series with Houston on Monday, on 70's Night at Wrigley Field. Ryan Dempster (12-4) will oppose Brian Moehler (6-4). Monday's game will start at 6:05 to accommodate ESPN.

The Astros are sending the same three pitchers -- Moehler, Wandy Rodriguez and Brandon Backe -- that took two out of three from the Cubs in the first series after the All-Star break.

Soto's importance to the team can't be spoken loud enough. The league's first rookie catcher to start an All-Star Game is also handling one of its top pitching staffs.

"This kid's got a real good idea behind the plate," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "The pitchers respect him. He's very, very diligent in his approach, and his No. 1 priority is to call a good game for the pitchers. You really like that and admire that in a young catcher. Then he does a very respectable job with the bat, too."

Soto is hitting .278 with 17 home runs and 62 RBIs to lead all National League rookies. He struggled after the All-Star Game, going hitless in four straight games in Houston and Arizona, and was told he needed to hit the ball to the opposite field. He responded on Sunday with a pair of run-scoring base hits to right field.

He's also working on different approaches on mound visits.

"I'll just come up with stuff," Soto said. "I'll just be like, 'Somebody said I [stink]. I don't know, what do you think?' Just random stuff ... to lighten the mood out and take [the pitchers] out of the game for a split-second, concentrate again and refocus."

Pitching matchup
CHC: RHP Ryan Dempster (12-4, 2.90 ERA)
Dempster held the Brewers to one run on five hits and struck out nine over seven innings in his most recent start. The right-hander picked up his second straight win on the road, so that's not a problem anymore. He was able to hide his delivery so well, the Brewers couldn't tell when he was throwing his fastball and when it was his split. His approach was to get ahead in the count, and it worked. He is 1-1 vs. Houston this year, with a win on July 20.

HOU: RHP Brian Moehler (6-4, 4.23 ERA)
Moehler fell one out shy of his 11th career complete game and his first in eight years during his last start against the Reds, but the right-hander still walked away with his sixth win of the year. Moehler pitched well in his last outing against the Cubs, allowing one run over seven innings while taking a no-decision on July 18 at Minute Maid Park. He also faced them on May 19, allowing three runs over five innings in a losing effort.

Reed Johnson and Alfonso Soriano's consecutive home runs in the eighth inning on Sunday marked the seventh time this season the Cubs have gone back to back. ... Derrek Lee snapped an 0-for-16 skid with a single in the seventh. ... There was a Japanese buzz before Sunday's game, as Japanese politician Masaaki Kanda greeted Kosuke Fukudome. Kanda is the governor of the region where Fukudome played baseball in Japan. ... Reliever Jon Lieber is scheduled to make a rehab appearance for Class A Peoria on Tuesday. Lieber has been on the disabled list with a right foot strain since July 18. ... Rehabbing right-hander Angel Guzman gave up three runs, one earned, and three hits while striking out two for Class A Daytona on Saturday. It marked Guzman's first outing this season after undergoing Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery last year.

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Up next
• Thursday: Cubs (Rich Harden, 6-2, 2.04) vs. Astros (Wandy Rodriguez, 6-4, 3.61), 1:20 p.m. CT
• Wednesday: Cubs (Jason Marquis, 6-7, 4.68) vs. Astros (Brandon Backe, 6-10, 4.72), 1:20 p.m. CT
• Tuesday: Off-day

Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.