Climbing the Hill

METAIRIE, La. – In his fifth start since coming back from a hellish stint in Chicago, Rich Hill went six innings, allowing two runs on five hits in a no-decision for Triple-A Iowa on Thursday night. Hill struck out six and walked one in the Cubs' 5-2 victory over the New Orleans Zephyrs.

Hill opened the game by striking out the first two batters he saw on the minimum six pitches, but then gave up back-to-back-to-back singles to allow the game's first run and put Iowa in a 1-0 hole.

The left-hander allowed another run in the third, courtesy of Bernie Castro's triple into the right field corner that would later allow the Zephyr leadoff hitter to score.

Throughout the night, Hill mixed in his usual assortment of breaking balls and changeup's. His fastball was routinely clocked at 91 mph with a top-out speed of 92. He lowered his ERA to 2.38 in nine starts for Iowa and now has 76 strikeouts to 12 walks.

"I thought it went well tonight," Hill said after the game. "I was disappointed to get the first two guys in the first and then give up three hits afterward. That was the only thing that got to me. The triple I could deal with."

Hill pitched the entire way with his team trailing. He was in line for a loss before the offense sparked for four runs in the eighth inning to pull away.

Asked if he was disappointed about not getting the victory himself, Hill said, "Nah, we won, so it's a great game. It's a team game and a team effort. There's times when you want to be selfish, but you put the team first."

Iowa manager Mike Quade said Hill is continuing to improve since being sent back from Chicago after a stretch in which the southpaw made four starts with the big league club and surrendered 20 runs in 19 1/3 innings.

"He's such a funny guy," said Quade. "You see him on nights where there's just no contest and then you see him on nights like tonight when he has to work a little bit. Tonight wasn't vintage Rich, but he's doing some things that are going to help him."

The biggest thing Hill has going for him at the moment is the simple art of pitching to his strength. Since re-joining the Iowa team, Hill has gone back to the basics: attacking hitters rather than nibbling with pitches that result in high walk totals.

He went right after opposing hitters again Thursday, walking only one and seldom falling behind in the count. In his five starts with Iowa since last appearing with the major league unit, Hill has 43 strikeouts to five walks.

Does he worry about not getting another shot at the majors in the near future?

"Yeah, you do a little," Hill said earlier this week. "Sure, it runs through your head."

Randy Bush, an Assistant to the General Manager, says there's no reason to doubt that Hill will one day break the major league plateau and stay there.

"We think the world of Rich," said Bush, in town for the series before heading up to Boston later this week. "We absolutely adore Rich and we all believe that he'll be a very successful major league pitcher with the Chicago Cubs one day."

In relief, Andrew Shipman picked up his first win of the year and lowered his ERA to 3.44 in 26 appearances. He worked one inning and allowed one hit while striking out two.

At 0-3 entering the night, Shipman could understandably have been getting anxious for his first win. But he quickly and astutely pointed out that as a relief pitcher, he's not in it for the record.

"I'm here to help the team win," Shipman said. "It's always nice if I get a win in there, but I'm not out there trying to get my record or even my stats up."

Having Iowa pitching coach Alan Dunn make the move from Double-A West Tenn (where Shipman spent 2005 as a Southern League all-star) to Iowa this season has only helped the right-hander.

"Knowing Alan would be moving up a level in the off-season was some of the best news I could get," Shipman said. "Not that I knew I would go to Triple-A, but it was very nice to know that if I did go up a level, he would be there. I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for him."

Kerry Ligtenberg worked a scoreless ninth inning for his sixth save with the I-Cubs. He has a 1.11 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. Iowa split the four-game series with New Orleans and will head home for nine games before traveling back to Zephyr Field on Monday, June 26. They begin a four-game series with Albuquerque Friday.

Buck Coats was out of the starting lineup while nursing a sprained left knee and is listed as day-to-day. Coats injured the knee diving into second base in the second inning of Wednesday's 4-2 Iowa loss.

"We were very concerned about it originally," Quade said. "Originally, I think doc thought it was going to take over a week. It still might, but I think he was much better today than anticipated."

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