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02/28/12 5:35 PM EST

Improving Soto will miss spring opener

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs catcher Geovany Soto, sidelined with a strained groin, is improving but isn't expected to be ready by Sunday's Cactus League opener, manager Dale Sveum said Tuesday.

"[The athletic trainers] said he came in and was feeling better," Sveum said. "It's still one of those things where he's a week away from being on the field all day long."

The Cubs have to decide on a backup catcher for Soto this season. Koyie Hill held that job for the last five years, but is now in Cardinals camp.

The candidates include Welington Castillo, who has played just 11 big league games over two seasons; Jason Jaramillo, who played for the Pirates the last three years; Steve Clevenger, a former shortstop who was called up last season for the first time. Other catchers in camp include Minor Leaguers Blake Lalli and Michael Brenly.

"It's probably the first time in camp I've had so many quality catchers," Sveum said. "You have to keep your eye on them to make that decision when we break camp."

Lopez excited to start Cactus League opener

MESA, Ariz. -- Rodrigo Lopez was "flattered" to be told he'll be starting the Cubs' first Cactus League game on Sunday against the Athletics.

"It's nice knowing they have plans for me and want me to start a few games," Lopez said on Tuesday. "Everybody's excited to go out there and play, and everybody wants to play in the first one. I was lucky, probably, to start the first one. It makes me feel good and I'll go out there and do my best."

Last season, Lopez was 6-6 in 26 games with a 4.42 ERA, including a 6-5 mark and 4.50 ERA in 16 starts. He's gotten a huge assist this spring from former Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who was Lopez's coach in rookie ball. Sutcliffe, who is in Cubs camp until March 10, suggested some changes in Lopez's grip and thinking more about finishing his pitches.

"I feel good about it and can't wait to use it in the game," Lopez said of the changes.

The Cubs are still sorting out the rotation. So far, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Paul Maholm are set with Lopez, Randy Wells, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad, and Jeff Samardzija competing for the other spots. Lopez, 36, a non-roster invitee, could've easily been inserted into a game in the sixth inning, but instead will start Sunday.

"I'm flattered," Lopez said. "I'm here for a reason. They put me in the first game. That tells me they want to see me and they want to give me a good look."

Extra bases

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs will tune up for Cactus League play with two intrasquad games at HoHoKam Park Friday and Saturday. Cubs manager Dale Sveum will handle one of the teams and Triple-A Iowa manager Dave Bialas may be assigned the other. The games will last between five and six innings.

• Chicago opens Cactus League play Sunday against the Athletics. Do wins and losses matter in the Cactus League?

"I don't care where you're playing," Sveum said, "winning is winning and you want to win all the time. At the end of the Cactus League, will the record matter? Of course not.

"I think the bottom line is to stress to beat the other team every time you step on the field," he said. "It's not always what the final score dictates. Can you go home at night and say you kicked the other team's butt besides the final score of the game? You can win a lot of games and a guy can hit a walk-off, two-run homer on a great pitch and you lost the game, but you really won 8 2/3 innings, too. There's a difference between winning and losing sometimes and how you get it."

• Paul Maholm, who had been slowed by the flu, beat Rodrigo Lopez to complete the first round Tuesday in the Cubs' bunting tournament. Maholm was able to handle a 40-pitch bullpen session on Monday but felt a little weak. He wasn't able to eat for two days but said the problem was "nothing major."

There were four second-round matches in the bunt tourney, and players advancing to the sweet 16 include Adrian Cardenas, Blake Lalli, Trey McNutt and Jeff Beliveau.

• Casey Coleman could fill a spot as a starter or as a long man in the Cubs' bullpen.

"He'll be built up as a starter and compete," Sveum said of the right-hander, who was 3-9 with a 6.40 ERA with the Cubs and 5-2 with a 3.65 ERA at Triple-A Iowa.

"The long-man [spot] is open in the bullpen," Sveum said. "[Coleman] brings a lot of depth to the rotation. He'll be built up to compete for a job, any job that might come up."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.