The Cubs shipped enigmatic left-hander Rich Hill to the Baltimore Orioles today for a player to be named later. Hill had struggled with his command in 2008, as well as an injured back.
Indeed, it was a precipitous fall for the promising southpaw who the Cubs selected in the fourth round of the 2002 draft out of the University of Michigan. Blessed with a looping 12-6 curve, Hill made the cover of the June 2007 issue of Vine Line (below) displaying the grip he used to confound hitters en route to a 11-8 and 3.92 ERA campaign that season. At the end of the 2006 season, Hill had ratched up his value when he went 7-1 with a 1.80 ERA in just 15 starts–a lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal 2006 season for the big-league Cubs.
Like outfielder Felix Pie, who also was dealt to Baltimore in January, Hill’s minor-league numbers were impressive. He struck out 626 men in just 451.2 innings and was highly sought after by other teams. I remember our general manager Jim Hendry telling me during the 2006-07 off-season, he couldn’t get past the first five minutes of a conversation with other GMs without someone stating to get anything done, Hill had to be involved.
I liked Rich a lot–I remember in 2005 after he first made his big-league debut then had been sent down. While the team was on the road, Hill had just finished packing up his car to head back to Iowa. I ran into him in the concourse. He looked despondent, but when I told him he’d be back he just nodded and smiled.
The knock on him always was his fastball command. Everyone knew he had the big curveball and even a middling change, but he never could get that fastball right. Former Cubs bench coach Dick Pole told me once he challenged Rich to throw high strikes. Even though he sat around 90-91 mph, the curve made it look even faster. Dick was right–and Rich’s meteor took off.
I broached this subject with Rich one day. A terrifically cerebral guy, he read a lot and liked to play golf. But I think he needed to trust his stuff. Stop thinking so much. Even manager Lou Piniella said so. “He carries this burden around on his shoulders,” Lou said of Hill. “I tell him, go home, talk to your wife. Go out to a movie. Stop thinking.”
It was then Rich told me he had been reading a book called “Thinking Body, Dancing Mind,” by Chungliang Al Huang. (No relation.) I picked it up myself and found it insightful–not so much for any performance of mine, but rather, why Rich would like it. That mind of his, going a mile a minute, worrying about perfection, calmed down after he read it. I wonder how many of those lessons he relied on last year as he struggled through wildness and injury.
He’ll now compete for a spot on the Orioles with familiar faces around him–Baltimore’s bullpen coach Alan Dunn has worked with Rich before, as has O’s pitching coach Rick Kranitz, as well as Pie. Perhaps both he and Felix can find that meteor on its second time around.
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