Eric Hull Responding to the Challenge

Eric Hull knew exactly what he had to do when he reported for spring training. He knew because he had been told -- bluntly -- "There's going to be no Vero Beach for you this time. Either make the Jacksonville staff or move on."

Vero had been where Hull had spent all or part of the past two seasons. Now, though, the thinking in Los Angeles was that he's 25 years old and that it was time he showed the consistency that had been lacking too often in the past. When the player is an undrafted free agent, the margin for error narrows considerably. So, Hull had his ultimatem.

So far, he's more than responded to the challenge. He not only made the Jacksonville staff, he was in the starting rotation. A numbers game bumped him out of that for a time so he went to middle relief. There, he seemed to find his niche.

Pitch counts being what they are, the middle man is often most important on a minor league staff. Hull worked out admirably in that role. So well, that when Derek Thompson went up to the Dodgers he was moved back into the rotation. If his last start is to become his norm, he might be there awhile.

He went five innings, allowed five hits and two runs in that one, picking up the victory in a game that wound up in the Suns' favor, 7-4. This was the second straight start in which he had given up only a pair of runs in a five-inning performance although in the previous one,the Suns neglected to support him offensively so he was tagged with a 4-1 loss.

One of the oddities about all this is that Hull was signed as a closer, something he did in college at the University of Portland and in his first professional year. At Portland, he was tops in the West Coast Conference with eight saves in his senior year (2002). That, however, didn't get him a nod in the June draft so he eventually signed with the Dodgers as a free agent.

Sent to Great Falls, he became their main man out of the bullpen Did he ever! So good was he, he earned the nickname, "The Incredible Hull", for in 11 games, he didn't allow a single run saving five games, striking out 17 in 11.2 innings while walking only four. Great Falls then went on to the Pioneer League title as he was every bit as good, saving three of the team's four playoff wins, giving up just one earned run along the way.

Moved up to Vero Beach in 2003, he was given some starting assignments for the first time, 14 of those as he appeared in 31 games in all. While his won-loss record was an unpreposing 3-5, he did post a 2.68 earned run average.

He didn't make the Jacksonville staff out of the spring in 2004 but was promoted midway through the season after going 3-1, 4.18 at Vero. He had the same ERA with the Suns with a 4-3 record the result.

He's a guy with an average fast ball who must hit spots, something he didn't always do at Jacksonville. That prompted some doubts and led to the warning he received upon reporting. He's short for a pitcher (5-11), which also caused some concern for there are those that feel anybody under six feet is questionable.

"I know what I have to do," he said. "I'm not going to overpower people. If I can keep them off-balance and make them hit my pitch, I'm okay. I think I can do that."

He's doing it quite well now. Currently he has a 2-3 record with a 3.59 ERA, holding opposing batters to a .227 average, striking out 48 in 47.2 innings. Not bad at all. The Suns have been a better team lately and he's one of the reasons.