Command slowing Hill's progress

Command slowing Hill's progress

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Rich Hill took a step in the right direction on Saturday.

"It was better," the Cubs left-hander said after his second start and fourth game this spring. "It was definitely erratic, though."

Hill gave up two runs on three hits and three walks over 3 2/3 innings against the Chicago White Sox. He was removed after reaching his pitch count, and developing a little blister under his nail.

"I think we're going in the right direction," Hill said. "I'm not concerned about anything. This Spring Training, it's taken longer to get everything together. I just have to go with it and not hit the panic button."

In the first inning, Hill walked the leadoff batter, who then stole second. Two outs later, Paul Konerko hit an RBI single. In the third, Juan Uribe doubled and scored on Jason Bourgeois' single. The White Sox eventually won, 5-3, thanks to Jim Thome's two-run homer in the seventh.

Hill, projected as the fourth starter for the Cubs, has been struggling with nearly everything this spring. He was 11-8 with a 3.92 ERA in 32 starts last season, his first full year in the Major Leagues. He's trying to simplify things.

"It's letting the ball go, and trusting yourself, and going out there," he said. "You're not playing against yourself. You're out there competing against whoever is in the box. That's what I feel I'm getting better at at this point. The fastball command, the curveball command, right now it was better today, I can say that, and it's going in the right direction."

So, if the regular season began in five days, would Hill be ready?

"I could start," he said.

"Last year, the ball was coming out of his hand in Spring Training a lot better," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "This year, it's been a little more of a struggle for him, although he is throwing the ball better to his credit."

Hill recognizes there's a difference.

"It's a different season, it's a different feel," he said. "I don't know why it's not there yet. I could tell you I'm not being as aggressive as I should be out there, just attacking hitters as I was last year at this time. It's coming. It's definitely coming. Today, it was a batter here, a batter there."

Being assured of a spot rather than battling for one, which he had to do last season hasn't changed his approach. There's still a game to be played.

"You still have to go out there and compete," Hill said. "It's competition against yourself right now at this point."

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If Hill was having trouble with his command and it was the middle of the season, the lefty might be pushing that panic button. Instead, he's taking advantage of this time to develop more consistency with his delivery.

"If it's July, and you're going out there and your command is [off], then you have to make some serious adjustments," he said. "Right now, it's a building process of getting to the final stage of where you need to be on game day during the season."

Arizona isn't kind to pitchers who want to work on their breaking pitches. The dry air doesn't help matters.

"The final piece is the curveball, and it's usually the last pitch that comes," Piniella said. "You need the arm strength to throw that pitch. I think Rich has this start and two others, and he's got plenty of time. I'd like to see him start throwing it better and get ready for the season."

Hill admits it's a challenge.

"It is a challenge to even sweat out here," Hill said. "But I don't think that has to do with anything out here. You deal with blisters, and all sorts of things, and you need to get through it. There's no excuses. You could blame the elements -- it could be raining, snowing, sunny day, cloudy, whatever, it doesn't matter. You have to go out there and pitch."

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