Manager Dusty Baker said Rich Hill gave the Cubs everything he had in a seven-inning, 93-pitch outing Saturday against St. Louis.
Hill wholeheartedly agreed after allowing one run on four hits, arguably his best outing of the season.
But after the Cubs lost 2-1 on Gary Bennett's RBI single off Roberto Novoa in the ninth, the question was whether Hill could have lasted one more inning before turning it over to the bullpen.
With Scott Eyre on the disabled list, Bob Howry is the only reliable setup man for closer Ryan Dempster. Howry could have been used in the ninth instead of the eighth in a 1-1 game.
So was Hill actually spent, or could he have gone another inning?
"I went out there and gave them what I could," Hill replied. "The ball came out well. I executed pitches and felt great."
Hill has come a long way since May 20, when he called White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski "gutless" for his collision with catcher Michael Barrett, was reprimanded by management and then demoted to Triple-A Iowa the next day. Not only has Hill become a much better pitcher, he has learned to avoid saying things that will get him in trouble.
In his previous outing, a 6-5 loss to Philadelphia on Monday, Hill threw 112 pitches in six innings, his highest pitch count in 10 starts for the Cubs. He gave up a solo home run to Bennett in the third inning Saturday but had retired 11 of the last 12 men he faced before being pulled after seven.
Baker denied he was being cautious with his young pitcher.
"No, he'd had it," Baker said. "He gave us everything we wanted and more. The way Bennett had hit he's been killing left-handers and is not very good against right-handers.
"You don't want to stretch him out, especially the third or fourth time around against those guys. That worked out. It just didn't work out with Bennett [against Novoa]."
Bennett, the Cardinals' backup catcher, went 3-for-4 and is hitting .522 against the Cubs this year (12-for-23). Against the rest of the major leagues, Bennett is batting .189.
"This guy has been a thorn in our side all year," Baker said.
Bennett's heroics and Chris Carpenter's pitching secured the Cardinals' fourth victory in their last five games against the Cubs after St. Louis lost 10 of the first 13 in the series. Carpenter allowed one run on two hits and a walk in eight innings, but reliever Randy Flores notched the win with an inning of scoreless relief.
The Cubs have lost seven of their last nine, falling to 21 games under .500 for the first time since July 27. They're 20-21 since the All-Star break. After their 11-run outburst Thursday against Philadelphia, the Cubs have managed only one run in 18 innings against St. Louis, Phil Nevin's game-tying solo home run in the eighth inning.
"It's not that we're swinging the bats bad," Nevin said. "We've hit some balls hard. Those kinds of things happen."
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