Ready to Go

Rich Hill is ready to resume pitching in the major leagues.

Then again, Hill was ready in Spring Training before he was optioned to the minor leagues. He was ready last year, willing to accept whatever challenges and growing pains associated with pitching with the smallest amount of big league experience under his belt at the time.

To recap what Hill told us two months ago out in Spring Training, he knew there was a good possibility that he'd have to go back to the minors for the start of 2006 -- either to prove himself again, or to simply wait his turn.

When Mark Prior took his annual spring trip to the disabled list, Hill brushed off the notion that he was overly opportunistic about the chance to jump in and fill a void left by injuries to the starting rotation.

He understood that it wasn't the end of the world to have to go back to Triple-A, and that eventually a job would be his if he continued to pitch well.

Hill has, and with the uncertainty of the Cubs having Prior, Kerry Wood and Wade Miller all healthy, all at the same time, the job is now his to keep should he be able to control his own destiny.

Prior to the call-up to Chicago on Monday, Hill was 1-0 with a 1.44 ERA in four starts for Iowa. At the time he was promoted, his ERA and strikeout totals (33) were second in the Pacific Coast League.

Last year between Iowa, Double-A West Tenn and one minor league start at Peoria, Hill fanned 194 and walked just 35.

"What impresses me the most is his ability to keep the ball in the strike zone," said Iowa pitching coach Alan Dunn. "Control was something that plagued him early in his career, but he started getting a good handle on it last year. Once he did, it gave him a better idea of how to set up hitters."

In the past, Hill has taken some shots for possessing a breaking ball that sometimes ends up in the bleachers as much as it does the catcher's mitt.

Dunn said that particular concern remains, but that the curveball was still Hill's "put-away" pitch.

"There were times when it was devastating," Dunn said. "Then there were times where he'd leave it up in the zone. It was still a strike, but it was a hittable pitch. That's the one area we'd been trying to be more careful with."

Dunn also said that he feels Hill's fastball often goes unnoticed because of all the talk surrounding the breaking ball. He said that many if not most of Hill's two-strike pitches at Iowa this year were fastballs.

"It's got a late, late movement in the zone," Dunn says when describing Hill's fastball. "Hitters don't seem to pick it up very well. I think he's got some deception in his delivery that makes it hard to see."

Hill will get the start for the Cubs (14-12) in their series finale against Arizona (15-13) Thursday night beginning at 8:40 p.m. CDT in Phoenix. The game can be seen on WCIU-TV in Chicago only.

The Cubs need a win after having dropped two straight to the lowly Pirates (8-0, on Tuesday) and second-place Diamondbacks (5-1, on Wednesday).

"It feels like anything else you do," Hill recently told one reporter. "You get that initial rush of a new job or whatever it might be. But the second time around, it's nothing new."

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