Notes: Hill locks up rotation spot

Notes: Hill locks up rotation spot

MESA, Ariz. -- Rich Hill has been battling a nasty head cold this spring and taking Alka-Seltzer Cold medication almost daily. He felt a lot better Friday when told that Cubs manager Lou Piniella made it clear the left-hander is in the rotation for the start of the season.

"It's great just to be able to go out there the rest of camp and take that off your shoulders and just pitch," Hill said after his second spring outing Friday, a three-inning stint against the San Diego Padres. "That's what I've been doing regardless of the fact, because that is something I can't control. The only thing I can control is going out there and making pitches and getting guys out.

"[Piniella] saying that is great, but the thought process through the whole beginning of Spring Training is, 'Get your job done, control what you can control, and everything else will take care of itself,'" Hill said.

In the Cubs' 10-6 win over the Padres, the left-hander cruised and gave up one run on four hits over three innings and struck out three.

"I like the way he goes about his business," Piniella said. "He's serious, he's got good mound presence, and he's getting better and better.

"I feel comfortable with him," Piniella said. "He had a nice year in the second half. He's a good left-handed pitcher with a good upside. All I want him to do is get his work in and be ready for the fourth start of the season."

Hill will follow Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and a pitcher to be determined. Jason Marquis would be fifth in the order.

Roster spots: One player who also should be looking for housing in Chicago is infielder Ryan Theriot. Piniella has told the versatile infielder to relax.

"I don't believe in unnecessarily putting pressure on young kids to make the baseball team," Piniella said. "I told him to work hard in camp and when we go to Cincinnati from Las Vegas, he'll be on that plane with us."

You never know if some other young kid will catch Piniella's eye.

"I like the infusion of young players into a Major League club," he said. "I think they bring a lot of things to the table. They bring enthusiasm. They want to play hard to earn themselves more playing time. They push the veterans at times. I know there's going to be a veteran team, but at the same time, I'm not adverse at all -- and I've mentioned that to [general manager Jim Hendry] already -- about giving some young kids a chance to get into the mix seriously."

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Back in the saddle: This isn't just Spring Training for the players but also for Piniella, who sat out last season to work for FOX TV.

"I've felt comfortable from Day 1, but I knew I had to familiarize myself with all the talent here," he said. "Every day we play, something comes to mind about managing baseball games. It's amazing when you sit out a year -- I don't know, I guess you forget. Every day, something new comes to mind."

Like what?

"Like signs, like the way I like to play my third baseman, in or back; like optional steals; watching the outfielders, especially in close game situations," he said.

That's when bench coach Alan Trammell becomes very valuable. Piniella has already tested the former Detroit Tigers player and manager.

"To me, a few minds are better than one," Piniella said. "What I've been really impressed with 'Tram' is that when I ask him something three, four, five times this spring, he's given me a direct answer immediately; no waffling, no riding on the fence. If I wasn't exactly sure, I wouldn't be asking."

Growth chart: Young pitcher Sean Gallagher wasn't on the travel roster for Thursday's game in Peoria between the Cubs and Padres, but he made the trip, kept the pitching chart and learned a few things.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild would ask Gallagher between innings about trends. And the right-hander had an answer.

"I noticed that when Wade [Miller] would throw, and also [Jason] Anderson, they'd start painting the outside corner, and you'd see the front shoulder of the guy starting to lean out and then they'd come right back inside and freeze him," Gallagher said. "It was a perfect pitch -- and they'd come in and break the bat. They'd be setting up the hitters. These guys are veterans. It's great to see them, and see their pregame routine and how they think."

Gallagher, the Cubs' 12th-round pick in 2004, listens to Piniella, too. The Cubs manager doesn't want pitchers to waste any time.

"Sometimes you think, 'I'm going 0-2, so I'm going to throw it by him,'" Gallagher said. "There's no point. Throw another quality strike where it's a high-percentage pitch for you. It's your strength. If you're a two-seamer guy, throw a two-seamer. Get in, get out as quick as you can. The less pitches the better.

"You don't want to go out there and try to strike everyone out," he said. "You want a quick inning." <> Sounds like Gallagher is paying attention.

Far east: Mike Kinkade has had an interesting career. The 33-year-old infielder, who is a non-roster invitee, has played for the New York Mets, the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers and Hanshin Tigers in Japan.

In 2004 with Hanshin, he suffered a concussion in April when he was hit in the head by Chunichi's Martin Vargas, who is from the Dominican, not Japan. He came back in May, and suffered a broken hand when he was hit by a pitch.

"The Japanese guys hit me enough," he said. "I got hit over and over and over again. They blamed me for not getting out of the way. They didn't help me out. It wasn't like over here. A guy gets hit one or two times here, somebody goes down. They told me I had to move out of the way. It was different, but I had a lot of fun over there."

The team made sure he was in a nice location, and there was an English language movie theater nearby along with standard fast food such as Subway, Wendy's and McDonalds. He learned enough Japanese to tell the taxi driver where he wanted to go. His two sons, Kameron and Konnor, were 4 and 2 years old at the time, respectively, and had a great time.

"I would definitely recommend it," he said about playing in Japan.

Last season, he hit .328 at Triple-A Albuquerque. He'd like to get back in the big leagues here.

"I just come in here to play," said Kinkade, who has a career .256 average in 222 Major League games. "I enjoy going out there and playing. Whatever happens, happens."

Extra bases: Left-hander Neal Cotts, being considered for the one vacancy in the rotation, gave up four runs, none earned, on seven hits over two innings against the Rangers. ... Aramis Ramirez was 2-for-3 with four RBIs, and hit his first spring homer. "Gerald [Perry, hitting coach] knows him well from Pittsburgh and said, 'You're going to really like this guy,' and I told him I started to like him a lot today," Piniella said. ... The high sky in Arizona makes it tough on outfielders. Piniella has backed up the outfielders in games. "We might have to play warning-track ball," he said. On Friday, the Padres totaled eight doubles. ... Outfielder Angel Pagan has been limited to batting only right-handed because he hurt his side during a throw. Friday was the third day of four in which Pagan, a switch-hitter, was being told to stick to a right-handed swing. He did play some right field. ... Michael Wuertz is scheduled to throw batting practice on Saturday. He has yet to appear in a game because of a strained right shoulder. ... Cliff Floyd could play in either Monday or Tuesday's games. He hasn't played to give his foot time to heal following offseason surgery. ... Expect to see first base coach Matt Sinatro on the field this weekend. Sinatro has not been able to handle the on-field coaching duties after undergoing surgery on his left knee this offseason. ... Condolences to former Cubs coach John Vukovich, who passed away this week. Vukovich managed the Cubs for one day -- he was the interim manager between Jim Frey and Gene Michael and in charge of the team on June 13, 1986. The Cubs split a doubleheader that day against the Cardinals, winning the first game in 10 innings and losing the second in 11 innings. He was to be named the Cubs manager in 1988, but resigned moments after general manager Dallas Green submitted his resignation.

On deck: Ted Lilly will start Saturday in Surprise against the Kansas City Royals at 2:05 p.m. CT, and Mark Prior will make his second Cactus League outing. "We want to see improvement," Piniella said of Prior, who went 1 2/3 innings in his first outing Monday. Prior didn't throw any offspeed pitches in his first outing, and the Cubs would like to see that as well as better command.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.