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Hill continues mastery, Cubs shut out Braves
Carlos Zambrano guaranteed in March he would win the National League Cy Young Award.
Rich Hill was hoping simply to stay in the rotation and build on his success from the second half of 2006.
"I don't make any predictions," he said Thursday.
It's still a long way to October, but Hill already has replaced Zambrano as the de facto ace of the Cubs staff, and he might have an eye on a Cy as well.
The 27-year-old left-hander improved to 3-0 Thursday night with eight scoreless innings in a 3-0 victory over Atlanta at Turner Field that increased his scoreless streak to 16 innings.
Hill has allowed only one run—a Corey Hart homer to break up a perfect game April 6 in Milwaukee—over 22 innings as he has compiled a 0.41 earned-run average while yielding just eight hits.
"He has pitched as well as anybody in baseball," manager Lou Piniella said. "That's three outstanding games, back-to-back, and we really needed some innings to save our bullpen one more day."
Michael Barrett and Aramis Ramirez homered off Atlanta left-hander Mark Redman, and Ryan Dempster posted his third save to help the Cubs to a split in their two-game series with the Braves.
They come home to face archrival St. Louis, with old pals Piniella and Tony La Russa renewing their rivalry and adding some spice to the 115-year-old feud between the Cubs and Cardinals.
Zambrano's outrageous remarks and the long-running saga surrounding the health of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood overshadowed Hill during spring training. But it's no longer possible to ignore his dominance.
His game plan is relatively simple.
"Just going out there and staying consistent and stay with the same philosophy I've had for a while now," he said. "Stay aggressive and stay on the attack. Hitters know that. They know 'if we get Hill today, he's aggressive and going to come after us. We have to get up and swing the bats.' You turn it around and put it on them."
While it's way too early to mention Hill and the Cy Young Award in the same breath, he certainly looks like an early candidate for the National League All-Star team.
"I just want to see him compete every day, attack the hitters and do what he has been doing," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "I don't worry about the All-Star stuff or anything like that. That takes care of itself if you do the little things that get you there."
Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of Derrek Lee's collision with Rafael Furcal that caused him a broken wrist and was the beginning of the end for both the Cubs and former manager Dusty Baker. Piniella hopes Thursday's victory marks the end of the bad beginning of his team.
With the Cubs facing a lefty starter for only the second time, Ryan Theriot led off and played second with Mark DeRosa starting in right for the first time since spring training. DeRosa let a fly ball bounce a foot next to him on the warning track for a ground-rule double leading off the sixth, but Hill picked up his teammate by getting out of the inning.
The experiment of using Theriot as a backup outfielder is over, except for an emergency. Piniella referred before the game to his "logjam of outfielders" as opposed to a shortage of relief pitchers since Angel Guzman was sent to Iowa on a day the Cubs played 14 innings and used up their entire bullpen.
"It's pretty good luck," Piniella said facetiously. "You have to be lucky to get something like that."