Weekend Dish: July 24

See also: Friday’s Daily Dish
See also: Complete Daily Dish Archive

Cubs lefthander Rich Hill remains one of the tougher pitchers to decipher in baseball.

He has had big stuff’"low 90s velocity and a big, hard curveball–since his college days at Michigan, though he only went 7-16, 4.93 during his Wolverines career. And he has been erratic in the minor leagues, entering 2006 with a .500 career record and an ERA near 4. But he also has dominated, with 491 career strikeouts in 351 career minor league innings.

Hill’s inability to throw consistent strikes always has frustrated scouts, and it frustrated the Cubs last year, as he went just 0-2, 9.13 in 10 big league games. He struck out 21 but walked 17 in 24 innings with the Cubs and was actually worse in a four-start cameo this season, one that was bad even by 2006 Cubs standards. Hill walked 15 in 19 innings while losing all four starts.

So how come this guy is just amazing in Triple-A? Saturday night, Hill pitched seven one-hit innings for Iowa in a 3-0 victory against Memphis, striking out 14 and walking one. Of his 105 pitches, 71 were for strikes.

Iowa manager Mike Quade, up with the major league club as a third-base coach, told reporters Hill’s biggest issue remains fastball command.

“He may point up the difference between the (Triple-A and major league) levels more than anybody,” Quade told MLB.com. “Pitches that I believe he gets outs with there, he hasn’t gotten outs with here. It may be because he’s behind in the count.”

Hill’s victory improved him to 7-1, 1.80, and even with the big league detour, he leads the Pacific Coast League in two triple-crown categories: ERA and strikeouts. His 135 K’s have come in just 100 innings, and he’s allowed just 88 baserunners (62 hits, 5 HBPs, 21 walks). With the Cubs’ dealing Scott Williamson to the Padres and losing lefty Sean Marshall to the disabled list (strained oblique), Hill could get another chance at the majors soon.

“Every game, you go out and go as hard as you can,” Hill told the Des Moines Register after his victory Saturday. “Every game is an audition.”

Enough with the auditions. Hill needs to perform on the big stage now.

Quick Hits

• Congratulations to a pair of rookies who got their first big league action over the weekend. Lefthander Kason Gabbard capped his first year seeing action above the Class A level by pitching for the Red Sox against the Mariners, taking a loss Saturday but pitching into the sixth inning. The Angels promoted center fielder Reggie Willits, and the former Oklahoma Sooner came through with a game-winning RBI in his second game Saturday.

• Enough Jose Tabata, Mets fans say. What about our 17-year-old outfielder, Fernando Martinez? Off the DL, Martinez has picked up where he left off for low Class A Hagerstown, going 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs Sunday to improve to .345/.402/.514. He’s 9-for-17 with a homer and eight RBIs in his first four games back from the DL. Tabata, meanwhile, hasn’t played since being hit by a pitch July 18. More to come on Tabata.

• Best matchup of the weekend took place Sunday in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. In the third and fourth innings, the pitchers were both first-rounders: Nationals righty Colten Willems, who got the loss by giving up seven hits and three runs in four innings, and Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, who threw five scoreless frames and fanned five to earn his first professional victory. Runner-up may also have come Sunday in the GCL, as Yankees righthander Dellin Betances threw three perfect innings against the Tigers. Righty Eric Beattie, a 2004 second-round pick, continued his comeback from control problems with five scoreless frames, though he walked five and struck out five while giving up one hit.

• Tigers lefthander Luke French kept the good news coming for the Tigers with a complete-game one-hitter in a 4-0 victory against Dayton. French, considered the organization’s top lefthanded pitching prospect entering the year, improved to 9-4, 3.12 with the victory, backed up by eight hits and five Whitecaps stolen bases.

Jose Garcia retired the first 18 batters he faced Friday night in Carolina’s 8-2 victory against Huntsville. The Mudcats righthander and Marlins’ Futures Game representative gave up a Travis Ezi single over first base for a double to start the seventh, ending his bid. He gave up three hits and two runs while striking out 10 in seven innings and did not walk a batter for improve to 3-3, 2.23 on the season.

• Triple-A Portland catcher George Kottaras missed three games (as of Friday) with a neck bruise after having been hit by a foul ball Tuesday in Tucson. He returned to the lineup with two hits Saturday, including a double, and added an RBI as he ended a 1-for-12 slump.

• Righthander Thomas Diamond has landed on the disabled list at Double-A Frisco with forearm soreness, setting off a chain reaction of interesting promotions within the Rangers system. Righthander Eric Hurley, a Futures Gamer, will join Frisco after going 5-6, 4.11 at high Class A Bakersfield. Hurley, a 2004 first-round pick, has 106 strikeouts and just 32 walks in 101 innings for the Blaze. Replacing him in Bakersfield will be 18-year-old Omar Poveda, who also has a sterling K-BB ratio (107-26 in 106 innings) at low Class A Clinton. Poveda is just 2-10, 4.75 overall.

• High Class A Fort Myers just keeps churning out pitching prospects, most of them graduates of the loaded 2005 low Class A Beloit staff. It took Kyle Waldrop longer than most to get out of Beloit, but after repeating the level to start the year, he earned a trip to the Miracle and has won his first two Florida State League outings. The 2004 first-round pick out of Knoxville’s Farragut High, who led the school to a pair of Tennessee state titles, went five innings Sunday without giving up an earned run and struck out six in a 10-1 whipping of Palm Beach. Waldrop has given up five runs (three earned) in his first 12 innings for the Miracle.

• Boise’s 4-3 victory at Everett ranked as one of Friday night’s oddest games. Five players were kicked out in the seventh inning, a brawl sparked, according to the Seattle Times, when Everett first baseman Joe White was pulled off the bag by a poor throw and tagged the helmet of Hawks baserunner Alfred Joseph. Joseph took exception to the tag, igniting a brawl that prompted two Hawks and three AquaSox to be ejected. Boise won the game when Everett righthander Doug Fister walked two batters (one intentionally) and threw five consecutive wild pitches to score the tying and winning runs. Lefty Mark Pawelek, the Cubs’ 2005 first-rounder, had his best outing of the year to start it for Boise, striking out five in five scoreless innings.

• The Braves promoted righty Matt Wright to Triple-A Richmond, and he got his first win there Friday, beating Indianapolis 8-4 with five innings of three-hit ball. Wright, considered a strike-thrower with average stuff, was 7-3, 2.22 at Double-A Mississippi, leading the Southern League in ERA at the time of his promotion.

• Yankees righthander Colter Bean made his second start of the season and beat Pawtucket with five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Bean struck out seven and walked five; on the year he’s 6-2, 2.92 with 71 strikeouts and 39 walks in 52 innings, and he’s limited lefthanded batters to a .203 average.

• The Cardinals promoted righthander Chris Lambert, their 2004 first-round pick, to Triple-A Memphis, and he took the loss Friday at Iowa after giving up five hits and three runs (all earned) in four innings in the second game of a doubleheader. Lambert was 8-8, 5.21 at Double-A Springfield before the promotion.

• The Indians promoted center fielder Brian Barton, who at 24 was too old for the high Class A Carolina League anyway. The former Miami Hurricane had a solid debut for Double-A Akron against Harrisburg, going 5-for-10 in his first three games with solo homers Friday and Saturday. He hit .308/.410/.515 for Kinston with 13 homers and 26 stolen bases (in just 29 tries) prior to the promotion. Don’t cry for Kinston, though, as 2005 supplemental first-rounder (and scourge of Roger Clemens) Johnny Drennen came up from low Class A Lake County to replace Barton. Drennen went 1-for-11 in his first three games.

• Former Clemson catcher Lou Santangelo had his best night as a pro Saturday, bashing three homers for high Class A Salem in a 10-7 victory against Frederick. Santangelo hit two solo shots and a two-run blast to improve to .251/.312/.510, and his 15 homers now rank him in a tie for the Carolina League lead. His slugging percentage trails only Barton, who obviously is now out of the league. A solid defender, Santangelo also ranks first among regular CL catchers and fourth overall by throwing out 45 percent of opposing basestealers (42 of 93).

• Two of the Cal League’s hottest pitchers both put up strong starts Saturday. Devil Rays lefthander Jonathan Barratt struck out seven in five scoreless frames and has 18 K’s in 11 innings over his last two starts. Barratt has a 2.56 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 46 innings since June began. Somewhat less heralded is Rangers righthander Doug Mathis, who threw a seven-inning complete-game shutout with 10 strikeouts in Bakersfield’s 3-0 win at Modesto. Mathis hasn’t allowed a run in 19 innings over his last three starts, with a 22-5 strikeout-walk ratio over 21 innings. He’s 6-6, 4.24 overall.

• The Cardinals promoted first-round pick Adam Ottavino to low Class A Quad Cities despite a couple of rough outings. Ottavino didn’t allow any earned runs over his first 19 1/3 innings as a pro, but in two starts since, he has given up 10 earned runs in nine innings, including a six-run, four inning start last Wednesday. Ottavino will be added to the roster in time to make his debut sometime early this week.