The Evolution of Rich Hill

Game Fifteen – Cubs 3 Braves 0
WP – Rich Hill (3-0) LP – Mark Redman (0-3) Save – Ryan Dempster (3)

wflag.jpg A little less than a year ago Rich Hill was just another prize pitching prospect in the Cubs’ farm system. He had struggled in his first call-up during the 2005 season and had not come anywhere near the success he had at the Triple-A level. The Cubs optioned him to Iowa to start the 2006 season and his first call-up last year featured more of the same and resulted in a demotion back to the minors in May. Fast forward 11 months and he has begun to establish himself as one of the best pitchers in the National League. Hill’s first 3 starts of this season have been just short of perfection for the young southpaw….in 22 innings he has allowed just 1 run and has thrown 16 consecutive shutout innings. His latest gem on Thursday night in Atlanta lowered his major league leading ERA to 0.41.

The solo home runs by Michael Barrett and Aramis Ramirez gave Hill more than enough against a very good Braves’ team but the RBI double by Mark DeRosa in the 8th gave Ryan Dempster a little more breathing room in route to his 3rd save of the season.

Rich Hill struck out a season high 7 Braves on Thursday and did not walk his first batter until the 6th inning. Hill pitched out of “trouble” in the first two innings of the ballgame while the Cubs defense played a solid, mistake free game and helped bail their pitcher out of a couple of tough spots. Hill threw 111 pitches, 70 for strikes and threw his curve for strikes all night….in the process opponents are hitting just .113 against him.

After a lead off single in the 1st by Kelly Johnson, Edgar Renteria sacrificed him to 2nd but Hill retired Chipper Jones on a ground out and after two great curve balls for strikes, retired Andruw Jones on a ground out to short. In the 2nd, Hill gave up a leadoff single to Jeff Francoeur and a 2-out single to Brayan Pena before striking out Mark Redman to end the inning. After the Pena single, the Braves did not record another hit until the 6th inning when Kelly Johnson led off with a double to right center. In between, Hill retired 10 in a row. The first walk of the night came in the 6th with 2 outs to Andruw Jones and he walked 2 more on the night.

Hill did a good job mixing in his fastball with that devastating curve and when the Braves appeared to have something going, Hill did not allow it to affect him and just went back to work on the next hitter. Hill appears confident and in control on the mound, a stark contrast to Carlos Zambrano. While Zambrano is a proven winner at the big league level if Rich Hill continues to pitch the way he has the Cubs will have a new ace of the staff.

The Cubs offense could not get started against Mark Redman and his defense helped him out on several occasions. Chipper Jones robbed Derrek Lee of an extra base hit in the 4th and Ryan Theriot thrown out trying to steal 3rd in the 1st inning erased a leadoff single and a steal of 2nd. Michael Barrett hit his 2nd homer of the season in the 4th inning and Aramis Ramirez hit his 2nd of the season as well in the 6th. Ryan Theriot singled and scored on a double by Mark DeRosa in the 8th….Theriot scored all the way from 1st on a double to left. Daryle Ward received his 2nd intentional walk in as many days and Felix Pie was 0 for 4 on the night with two strikeouts.

Ryan Dempster was very good in the 9th….he threw strikes. He retired Andruw Jones and Jeff Francoeur on three pitches before striking out Matt Diaz to end the game.

The Cubs should have left Atlanta with two wins under their belt but Rich Hill’s performance salvaged the 2-game series and ended a 2-game losing streak.

The Cubs head back to Chicago for their second homestand of the season. The next six games are between the Cardinals and Brewers and if the Cubs have designs on winning the division they will have to beat these two teams….especially when the games are at Wrigley Field. Ted Lilly is scheduled to face Braden Looper in the opener on Friday and Jason Marquis is scheduled to face his former team and the man that took his place on the post season roster last season, Anthony Reyes, on Saturday.

Quote of the Day

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow." - Albert Einstein