Does That Hill Turn a Corner?

The AZL Cubs defeated the AZL A's 3-2 at Fitch Park Field #3 this morning.

box score

The game featured another fine outing by RHP Julio Pena, and the victory was probably saved by a nifty 6-4-3 DP to end the top of the 8th inning, started with a super stop by SS Junior Lake, then a quick flip with a fast turn by 2B George Matheus, and completed with a nice stretch by 1B Sean Hoorelbeke. Too bad AZL games aren't televised, because that one would have made the highlight reel!

Today's AZL Cubs offensive heroes were RF Nelson Perez (a double and an RBI single) and catcher Jose Guevara (a double and RBI single through a drawn-in infield).  

Prior to the game, Rich Hill threw a simulated game that featured his new delivery, and it looks like he may actually have found the cure for his version of Steve Blass Disease. 

He no longer tilts his shoulder and head back to the exent he had been doing (a la Fernando Valenzuela), which allows him to keep his eyes on the catcher's target. That might sound like a simple thing to fix, but we're talking body memory here, and that can be a stubborn force to work against.

And the results this morning were that he was able to throw his fastball and curve over the plate pitch-after-pitch, just like he was doing in 2006 and into Spring Training 2007 and through most of last season. He was absolutely unhittable today.

The curves literally buckled the knees of the young AZL Cubs hitters, and (probably more importantly) he was able to consistently throw his fastball for strikes  And maybe most importantly, Hill looked relaxed and he even was able to crack a smile at one point. (One of the telltale symptoms of Steve Blass Disease is the inability to smile).  

Now the key is whether he can keep the new delivery in his head and make it repeatable from outing-to-outing. If he can, the Cubs might have the rotation starter they think they need for the stretch run right in their own backyard (Fitch Park).

Kudos to AZL Cubs pitching coach Rick Tronerud and Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator Mark Riggins for getting Hill as far along as they have in just ten days. How much longer Hill will remain at Fitch Park is probably still TBD, but I would think getting him back to Iowa ASAP to build up his pitch count, face tougher hitters, and work with umpires who can call balls & strikes a little bit more consistently than is the case with the "rookie" umps who work in the AZL, would be a priority.  

In case you are wondering what AZL umpires are like, they work in two-man crews, and most of them are in the early to mid-20's (think Richie Cunningham and Potsie), and they tend to make more mistakes than do umps at the higher levels. They can also sometimes be a bit overly thin-skinned.

Like today, in the top of the 5th inning, the home plate umpire called time and stepped out in front of the plate to announce (for all to hear) that the Cubs were trying to show him up and they better stop that and get back to work.

What happened to cause this interruption? 

Well, at Fitch Park, the scoreboard is operated by one of the Cubs pitchers who is not scheduled to pitch that day. The pitcher operating the scoreboard, as well as another Cubs pitcher who is "charting" the game and a third Cubs pitcher who operates the radar gun, all sit behind home plate in a cage. (The opposing team has two or three guys back there, too)

And after a pitch was called a ball that everybody in the park thought was a strike, the error light lit up on the scoreboard. And the umpire saw it. And he got mad. Blew a gasket. Had a cow. 

Or as Governor LePetomane would say... "Harrumph!!"  

On the injury rehab front, Angel Guzman (September 2007 TJS) expects to be at Fitch Park another two or three weeks. This actually makes sense and it explains why Guzman has remained at Fitch Park even though it's pretty clear he is ready to move on up.

See, the Cubs can send Gooz out for a maximum of 30 days on a minor league rehab assignment, and then they have to make sure that he doesn't spend more than 19 days on optional assignment to the minors after that (that's a total of 49 days maximum combined), in order to preserve his 4th minor league option for next season (in case the Cubs need to send him to the minors for some work at the end of Spring Training or any other time during the '09 season).

So operating under those parameters, the absolute earliest the Cubs can send Guzman out on a rehab assignment would be July 14th (with the rehab ending on August 12th, followed by no more than 19 days on optional assignment, 8/13 through 8/31), and that's only if they are planning to recall him from his optional assignment immediately when rosters expand on September 1st.

And the Cubs have signed their 2008 2nd round draft pick, RHP Aaron Shafer (Wichita State). Shafer received a $625K bonus, which is right about exactly what he should have expected to receive based on his slot (overall pick #65). 

So the Cubs have now signed 25 of their first 27 2008 Rule 4 Draft picks, with RHP Andrew Cashner (1st round pick out of TCU) and RHP Alex Wilson (10th round pick out of Texas A&M) the only two picks out of the first 27 left outstanding.

The deadline to sign players selected in the Rule 4 Draft--as well as non-drafted free-agents (NDFA) who were eligible for selection in the Rule 4 Draft--is August 15th.

 

Comments

That's great news about Rich Hill. If Riggins and Tronerud have fixed him they should both be made Vice Presidents.

Next project: Carlos Marmol. If he were Rich Hill he'd be packing his backs today. He says he feels fine, same as Hill, but that delivery.... It's all over the place and so is his command. A trip to the home of AzPhil might just be what he needs.

Rich Hill's 19.2 IP for the Cubs this year that got him optioned to Iowa:

2 HR
9 ER (4.12 ERA)
18 BB

Carlos Marmol's last 20.0 IP (goes back to May 19)

5 HR
15 ER (6.75 ERA)
15 BB

Marmol's ERA by the month

April 1.69
May 1.93
June 7.36
July 36.00

If Hill came all the way back and returned after the AS break - well, how awesome would that be? I'll keep dreaming.

Well if you're dreaming, you might as well imagine it with CC Sabathia in that rotation as well. I certainly could live with:

Z
Sabathia
Dempster
Lilly
Hill (back to good)

Instead, we'll probably have

Z (if he doesn't get injured)
Dempster (returning to mediocre)
Lilly (ditto)
Marshall (third time through and he's a goner)
Marquis (Marquis)

Oh well.

With Marmol coming down to earth and the so-so performances of Weurtz and Cotts & the "injury" to Eyre - the bullpen's smelling kinda shitty. So if Hill came back into form it would allow either Gallagher or Marshall to go to the pen. Gallagher would certainly be an upgrade over Ascanio, though he's done very well as a 22 year old MLB #5.

I'm sure Lou won't want to wait for Hill to prove himself before getting an extra pitcher, so if CC is a Brewer and Burnett or Harden becomes a Cub, the potential pitching staff is something like this: (If Hill comes back and pitches like last year, you can move Marquis to the pen. His family will starve, but Lou won't care.)

Z
Demp
Lilly
Burnett/Harden
Marquis/Hill

Wood
Marmol
Howry
Eyre/Cotts
Gallagher
Marshall/Weurtz/Marquis
Lieber

Down to minors: 2 of Weurtz/Cotts/Marshall (or all 3 if Hill is back)

Keep it up Rich. That would be a helluva rotation for the second half

It makes a lot of sense keeping your eyes on the target throughout the windup and delivery.Arizona Phil......did any of the AZL Cubs get any decent hits off of Hill or was he really unhittable as you described? I bet they hit a few of his 91 mph fastballs.I hear that his curveball is nasty. Best of luck to him with his newfound mechanics on the mound.

Does anyone know what is up with 2006 35th overall supplemental draft pick (Padres) Kyler Burke? In 2007 he split his season at Ft. Wayne and Boise and batted .233. This year after 35 games in Peoria he was batting .206. Now after 14 games back in Boise he is batting .111. Is he possibly bothered by some sort of nagging injury? If not, what is the outlook for a once promising career?

Re: Burke - some say he's homesick.

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  • Oh yeah! It just felt like one for some reason.

    Old and Blue 18 min 17 sec ago view
  • Agreed. I was not including Fowler or Heyward.

    I'm just not a fan of 2016 Coghlan.....

    Dusty Baylor 24 min 54 sec ago view
  • @Dusty Contreras if it's a Lester or Arrieta start. TLS is good PH too. You also forgot about Heyward, assume Fowler is CF.

    chitownmvp01 26 min 9 sec ago view
  • I expect Soler to get optioned as well when activated and Cahill to replace Grimm. It wouldn't surprise me if Coghlan and/or Soler is included in a trade.

    Maybe Coghlan is up to see if he can get on track before someone acquires him.

    This move could also be to assure that we have as much OF depth as possible to maximize Joe's ability to rest players in September once we've clinched.

    chitownmvp01 28 min 19 sec ago view
  • Maddon basically said as much...Fowler still kind of sore, they're being proactive, etc.

    Tito 30 min 33 sec ago view
  • La Stella at 2B...Baez at 3B, or vice versa. Zobrist in RF, Bryant in LF No one gets bumped.

    Dusty Baylor 38 min 50 sec ago view
  • If Coghlan is leading off, I assume Fowler is getting the day off. Who is supposed to lead off, then? Someone has to get on base for Bryant and Rizzo. Coghlan's OBP is .346 with the Cubs. Jackson's was .304. LaStella can lead off, but then he has to play second or third, and bump Zobrist or Baez.

    Unless he gets hot, Coghlan will likely change places with Soler soon.

    VirginiaPhil 40 min 25 sec ago view
  • I suspect the Cubs asked Chris Coghlan if he would accept an Optional Assignment to the minors and he refused (Coghlan has one minor league option left), so either you keep LaStella on the 25 and release Coghlan, or option LaStella to AAA for about a month and have both LaStella and Coghlan available in September-October. (As an Article XIX-A player, Coghlan must give his permission before he can be optioned to the minors, while LaStella has not accrued enough MLB Service Time to refuse an optional assignment).

    Arizona Phil 1 hour 1 min ago view
  • Given today's lineup -- maybe they just wanted an extra OF to give Dexter a few days off (i.e. day game after a night game).

    billybucks 1 hour 3 min ago view
  • Tommy LaStella has three minor leaue options left so it's no big deal to send him to Iowa, but as of right now he projects to be at 2+124 MLB Service Time by the end of the of the 2016 MLB regular season, which will place him "on the bubble" as far as being eligible for salary arbitration as a "Super Two" post-2016.

    But if he spends at least twenty days on optional assignment this season (anything less than twenty days and he will accrue a full season of MLB Service Time), he will not have enough MLB Service Time to have a chance to be a "Super Two."

    Arizona Phil 1 hour 14 min ago view
  • this will be his 4th time leading off for the cubs this season...WITH A .500 OB%! HAIL MADDON! THE PLAN (c)2016! HE HAS RISEN! #YOLO #SWAG! KONY 2012!

    crunch 1 hour 22 min ago view
  • I don't hate Coghlan as a PHer but he's leading off today which is as bad as Austin Jackson doing so last year. He doesn't even have the speed.

    johann 2 hours 11 min ago view
  • TLS has options. He will be up again in Sept, and maybe earlier.

    Rob Richardson 2 hours 22 min ago view
  • Very odd -- TLS .308/.419 in July (in 26 AB). Strange move for a team struggling to score runs. Hard to imagine Coghlan doing better than that. Maybe they like Coghlan better as a PH?

    billybucks 2 hours 32 min ago view
  • Sorry to nitpick -- but the first game wasn't a save.

    billybucks 2 hours 47 min ago view
  • Wow La Stella sent to Iowa and Coghlan brought up. I'm not a huge Stella fan but he has been hitting lately and is to me better than Coghlan. Neither are good defensively but I guess Coghlan can play the outfield allowing Bryant to stay at 3rd more where he's better.

    johann 2 hours 48 min ago view