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07/17/09 12:40 AM ET

Soto, Dempster may be back before expected

Chicago (44-43) at Washington (26-62), 6:05 p.m. CT

WASHINGTON -- Geovany Soto and Ryan Dempster, both on the disabled list, are making good progress, and the Cubs feel that the two could be back sooner than expected.

Soto, rehabbing in Mesa, Ariz., from a mild left oblique strain, has improved to the point where the Cubs aren't looking outside the organization for immediate help. Koyie Hill will be back behind the plate on Friday in the second game of the Cubs' four-game series against the Nationals, with Jake Fox as his backup.

"We're exploring other things," assistant general manager Randy Bush said, "but we're also encouraged that Geovany Soto -- we're hopeful -- he's feeling really good the last few days. We're hopeful he's turned the corner and this could be a short-term thing. We don't want to put any time frame on it. We're encouraged where he's at."

Fox was behind the plate on Sunday for the last two innings of the Cubs' day-night doubleheader against the Cardinals. That seemed to be enough to convince team executives that they don't need to make a deal for another backstop.

"Rather than rush into something, we thought we'd get more information on Geo and see how it goes with Koyie and Jake and adjust if we need to," Bush said.

"It gives [Soto] a good chance to get a lot of conditioning in," Dempster said of the catcher, who won National League Rookie of the Year honors last year. "He was just starting to get rolling when he hurt himself. Who knows? Maybe a little break will get him on a good track and get him ready when he does come back."

As for Dempster, who broke his right big toe on July 5, he's keeping his arm in shape by throwing off flat ground, and doing a lot of cardio work riding a bike. X-rays taken on Wednesday showed that everything is healing as it should.

"I want to be as ready as I can so when I do come off [the DL], I have velocity, strength and endurance," he said.

There's still some inflammation in the toe, but no pain.

"Talking to Larry [Rothschild, pitching coach], he seemed to think the second [turn in the rotation] after the break is not out of the question," manager Lou Piniella said.

"It's feeling good and making really good progress," Dempster said. "It's all positive. Hopefully, it keeps going that way and I'll be back soon."

Pitching matchup
CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano (5-4, 3.53 ERA)
Zambrano picked up his first win since June 5 in his last start, on Sunday against the Cardinals. He gave up three runs on five hits and two walks over six innings while striking out seven. He also hit his third homer of the year, and the 19th of his career. He is 1-1 with a 1.86 ERA in three July starts.

WSH: RHP Craig Stammen (2-4, 4.45 ERA)
Stammen seems to finally be "getting it" as a Major League pitcher. Following a hard-luck loss on July 6 in which he allowed just one run in seven innings at Coors Field, the rookie pitched a complete game at Houston on Saturday for his second victory of the season. He scattered nine hits and walked one while allowing two runs to the Astros in a 13-2 blowout. He has gone deep into games recently because of his ability to throw his sinker for strikes early in the count.

The Cubs signed left-handed pitcher B.J. Ryan to a Minor League contract. He was to report to the team's facility in Mesa to work with pitching coordinator Mark Riggins. ... WGN broadcaster Ron Santo will miss this trip because of a kidney infection. Former Cub Keith Moreland filled in. ... Andrew Cashner gave up two runs on four hits over four innings and struck out five in Tennessee's 6-4 win over Jacksonville. Jim Adducci finished a triple shy of the cycle, going 3-for-5 with a double, homer and two RBIs. ... Ryan Searle threw five shutout innings in Daytona's 8-2 win over Tampa. Starlin Castro went 4-for-4 and stole a base. Josh Vitters had two hits and two RBIs. ... Aaron Shafer gave up one run on five hits over five innings in Peoria's 4-2 win over West Michigan. ... Logan Watkins had four hits, extending his hitting streak to seven games, in Boise's 9-8 win over Yakima. Jae-Hoon Ha had two doubles and two RBIs, and Brett Jackson, Hak-Ju Lee and Matt Williams each had two hits.

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Up next
• Saturday: Cubs (Ted Lilly, 9-6, 3.18) at Nationals (Jordan Zimmermann, 3-4, 4.50), 6:05 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Cubs (Randy Wells, 4-4, 2.72) at Nationals (Garrett Mock, 0-2, 6.92), 12:35 p.m. CT
• Monday: Cubs (TBD) at Phillies (TBD), 6:05 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.