Hill erratic in allowing six free passes

Hill erratic in allowing six free passes

MESA, Ariz. -- Last spring, Rich Hill did not walk a batter in 15 2/3 innings. On Thursday, it was a different story for the Cubs left-hander.

Hill walked six and gave up one hit in 1 1/3 innings of an abbreviated start against the Colorado Rockies. He's now walked 14 this spring. Hill somehow found a silver lining.

"If anything, you look at the positives for today," Hill said. "I got through that first inning after walking five guys and only gave up one run. That's going through some adversity. To be able to go out there and do that, that's pretty good."

Cubs manager Lou Piniella was able to laugh with Hill after the shortened outing.

"I said, 'You reached your pitch count just about,'" Piniella said. "He said, 'I only gave up one run on five walks.' I said, 'Yeah, that's true.' That's pretty good pitching."

It was good enough for Hill to maintain a lock on the fourth spot in the Cubs rotation.

"First of all, he has good Major League stuff," Piniella said. "Second, last year, for a young pitcher, I thought he handled himself quite well and helped us win a division, and really one of these years, this young man should have a breakout year. We were hoping this would be the year for him. He's got to throw strikes, obviously."

Piniella said he planned to sit down with Hill, pitching coach Larry Rothschild, and general manager Jim Hendry sometime this weekend to talk about the left-hander, who has two starts remaining this spring.

"The ball was really coming out of his hand," Piniella said. "He had good velocity, good rotation. He just couldn't throw strikes."

In the first inning, Hill walked five, yet the Rockies managed one run. He then walked Cory Sullivan to open the second, and one out later, Scott Podsednik was safe on a throwing error by third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Hill overthrew first for an error, allowing another run to score, then gave up an RBI double to Yorvit Torrealba and was pulled.

He threw 49 pitches in the game, then went down to the bullpen and threw another 45 pitches. He felt good warming up, he felt good on the mound.

"The ball just wasn't going where I wanted it to," Hill said.

What was he trying to work on in the game?

"Throwing strikes, No. 1," Hill said, trying to lighten things up. "It is frustrating. You'd like to go out there and perform and perform to the ability you know you can. When that doesn't happen, you're getting in your own way and 90 percent of the time that's the issue you have to get over. But, you look forward, put it behind you and move on. I don't think you sit there and think about what's going on."

He does have a blister on the middle finger of his left hand, but said it was not a problem. Piniella dismissed it, too.

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Reminded that he didn't walk a single batter last year, Hill joked that he was making up for last season.

"Honestly, the cause for it is just a little mechanical, a little mental, a little bit of everything," he said. "It comes to the point where, OK, tomorrow's another day."

He feels there's enough time in Arizona to get back on track.

"I'm not concerned at all," he said. "It's their concern. I'll be pitching. That's the best thing. Wherever it might be, I'll be on the mound with a ball in my hand."

Wherever it might be?

"I don't sit there and hit the panic button," Hill said. "What's going to happen when the bell goes off? I'm not concerned one bit about that."

Jason Marquis, Ryan Dempster and Jon Lieber all have pitched well, and the Cubs have said they need to find a way to fit the three right-handers into two spots, with one possibly going to the bullpen. Piniella sounds committed to Hill. What if the organization decides the lefty needs more time somewhere other than the big league club?

"That's why we have seven guys," Hill said. "I'm not concerned about it at all. I have to do what I have to do and go out there and that's pitch and take the ball. I'm healthy. It's adversity, that's all it is, and you get through it, and you're better on the other side."

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