Hill Hoping for Active September

Cubs left-hander Rich Hill is in his third stint with the major league club this season, but was yet to see action since last being re-called prior to Wednesday's 7-4 loss to Cincinnati in 11 innings.

Hill was the seventh Cubs pitcher used in a game that lasted three hours and 33 minutes before a crowd of 37,695 at Wrigley Field. He served up a go-ahead three-run double to Sean Casey in the 11th inning, which eventually gave Cincinnati the win. The fifth-place Reds finished the year 9-6 against the Cubs, who sit six games back in the National League Wildcard standings entering Thursday's four-game series with St. Louis.

As for Hill, it was the first time he'd pitched for the big league club since being re-called from Triple-A Iowa on Sept. 2. Before Wednesday, Hill's last major league appearance was on Aug. 10--also against Cincinnati. He was the losing pitcher in an 8-2 loss that saw Hill allow six runs on four hits in three innings.

Hill's journey to the major leagues this season began at Double-A West Tenn. He was leading all of minor league baseball with 119 strikeouts in 13 starts between West Tenn and Iowa at the time he was first promoted to Chicago on June 15. Hill then appeared in three games with the Cubs before being sent back to Iowa. In his first stint with Chicago, he allowed three runs while striking out nine--all in relief.

A season ago, the Boston native (drafted in the fourth round in 2002) spent the year at Class-A Daytona of the Florida State League, where he was 7-6 with a 4.03 ERA in 19 starts and nine appearances from the bullpen. His plans entering this year was to spend most of the season at West Tenn. Instead, he got off to a blazing start after, among other things, tapping into the mental side of his game in the offseason and throughout Spring Training.

"It's been a long battle," said Hill, who won 11 games in the farm system while posting a 3.31 ERA there this season. "Not really a battle, but certainly great strides from where I was last year in Daytona."

At Daytona, Hill put together an average season that statistically was highlighted by both high walk and strikeout totals. His 136 strikeouts were fourth most in the league, but he walked 72 in 109.1 innings, which was first.

"I had some struggles, but I worked through them," Hill said. "Getting called up here was great and obviously going to the big leagues is the ultimate experience. It's been a great year for me. As I've mentioned before, I got on top of the mental side of the game and just took over from there."

But getting in touch with that mental side was just the tip of the iceberg with regards to Hill's success this season.

"I think I've worked on the overall command and execution of all my pitches this year," Hill said. "I also think that becoming more of a student and just being disciplined instead of going out there with kind of a 'round-about' idea of how to attack hitters has done a lot for me."

Now, what Hill hopes for is a chance to prove himself at the major league level--either as a starter or a reliever. The Cubs' rotation may have a spot for Hill in 2006, and as usual the bullpen is as wide open as ever.

In eight games with the Cubs, Hill has made four starts and four relief appearances. He is 0-2 with a 9.28 ERA after surrendering 22 earned runs in 21.1 innings, striking out 21 and walking 14.

Hill still prefers starting, although sharing pitching duties and switching roles between the rotation and bullpen is something he experienced as recent as last year under then-Daytona manager Steve McFarland.

"If I had a choice, I'd want to start," Hill said. "That's obviously where I'd love to be. Either way, starter or reliever, however it works out, I'm just ready to play (big league) baseball."

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