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Hill really fills the bill as an extra
Koyie Hill looks at his role the same way a trainer looks at his heavyweight boxer.
The key to the job, the backup catcher said, is to make the pitcher feel "like they're the most important person in the whole world."
It's not that difficult a task when Carlos Zambrano is on the mound, as he was for five shutout innings in the Cubs' 12-1 romp over San Francisco on a sweltering Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
Hill drove in a career-high five runs to help Zambrano earn his National League-best 12th victory, rewarding Cubs management for keeping the faith in him while he served as a backup to Michael Barrett, Rob Bowen and now Jason Kendall.
Hill knows he will be on the hot seat again when Henry Blanco returns from a minor-league rehab stint that is to begin Saturday at Class A Peoria.
"The Cubs are my favorite team," he said. "[Ryne] Sandberg was my man growing up. There's no doubt I'd like to stay here. I think if I were younger, early on in my career, I would have [worried]. But I'm very confident in the job I do and very proud of what I've done, or what the team has done since I've joined the team.
"I don't get caught up in it too much. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen anyway. There's no telling if this day [means] anything. You just go about your business, and when you go out on the field you try to make [the pitcher] feel like he's the best in the world and try to è win."
Only two days earlier, when the Cubs traded Bowen to Oakland for Kendall, Hill was in a 1-for-25 skid and wondering whether he would survive the latest round of catchers' roulette.
He still is hitting only .179 after going 2-for-3 with two doubles Wednesday, but the Cubs are 14-5 in his 19 starts and Cubs pitchers have a 2.66 ERA with him behind the plate.
Cubs starters are 37-26 with a 3.85 ERA, ranking second in the National League. The last time the Cubs' rotation led the league was in '04, when it went 61-51 with a 3.72 ERA. The starters are 5-1 since the All-Star break with a 2.70 ERA.
Jacque Jones' two-run single off Ryan Klesko's glove kick-started the Cubs in the fourth, and Hill added a two-run double to make it 4-0. Giants starter Matt Cain ran into trouble again when he walked the first two batters in the fifth. The Cubs then pounded reliever Patrick Misch, adding five more runs, including three on another Hill double.
Zambrano (12-7) pitched five scoreless innings before being removed in the sweltering heat with a headache and the Cubs leading 9-0. He's 7-2 in his last nine starts and has a 1.68 ERA with Hill catching him, in stark contrast to the 7.52 ERA he had with Barrett behind the plate.
"The guy came from Triple A and he knows what to do behind the plate," Zambrano said. "He calls good games. Sometimes when I try to throw any pitch, he puts one finger down, and that's what you're looking for. You don't want to shake them off and call time out and bring your catcher to the mound, especially me. You know me. I like to pitch fast, and if I want to throw that pitch, I throw it.
"It's good to have him catching me. I think the next time I will try Jason. I know he's a good catcher, and I don't have problems with catchers."
Zambrano paused for the laughs to die down, then flashed a big smile. It's all in the timing, and lately Zambrano's timing has been perfect.
"One of the reasons I'm pitching like this is I want to stay with the Cubs," he said. "I know if I pitch like this, I know they will do something about it. I have faith I can sign back with the Cubs."