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A Depleted Hill Slows to a Crawl

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ken Hill endured a marathon of sorts May 20, throwing 148 pitches in a victory over the Oakland Athletics, but the Angel right-hander could barely finish the baseball equivalent of a 100-yard dash Saturday night.

Still reeling from that Oakland game, Hill was rocked for five runs in two turbulent innings of an 8-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins before 16,827 in the Metrodome.

The bomb assessment damage from Hill’s last two starts: 10 runs on 14 hits in seven innings, and losses to the Kansas City Royals and Twins that dropped him to 7-4 with a 4.85 earned-run average.

“I felt good that night [against Oakland], but I might be feeling the effects of that game now,” said Hill, who gave up seven hits, walked two and struck out none Saturday night. “I feel OK physically, but I don’t have anything extra on my ball.”

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Hill, who threw only 47 pitches, experienced a similar “dead-arm period” with the Texas Rangers in 1996, when his ERA swelled to the 9.00 range that June, “and that’s what it feels like now,” he said.

“My command is not good, I’m all over the place, I’m up in the zone. When I was going good I was hitting my spots and locating my pitches. I’m in a funk right now. My next start is against Seattle [on Thursday night], so I’ve got to work through this.”

Hill ran into immediate trouble Saturday when he walked speedy leadoff batter Otis Nixon in the first. Third baseman Dave Hollins made a diving catch of Todd Walker’s liner, but Nixon stole second, and Paul Molitor reached on an infield single.

Orlando Merced doubled to left to knock in two runs and Ron Coomer singled sharply to center for a third run. Hill walked Denny Hocking to open the second, and Nixon and Walker followed with singles.

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Hocking was thrown out at the plate by center fielder Jim Edmonds while trying to score on Walker’s hit, but the Twins scored on Molitor’s RBI groundout and Merced’s RBI single to take a 5-0 lead.

Coomer launched a rocket to center that Edmonds caught at the wall to end the inning, and that brought an end to Hill’s evening, not to mention all the good feelings the Angels accrued when they ended a four-game losing streak by beating the Twins on Friday night.

“That’s just part of the game,” Manager Terry Collins said. “You’re not going to run out there 35 times with good stuff. That may have been the worst stuff Ken has had all year. He had no breaking ball and no command of his fastball.”

Angel right-hander Rich DeLucia relieved Hill and had his best outing in more than a month, giving up a homer to Terry Steinbach in the third but only one hit over the next three innings.

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But the Angels couldn’t muster much of an attack off right-hander Brad Radke, who gave up one run on six hits in seven innings to improve to 7-3.

Garret Anderson homered in the fourth, but the only other Angel threat--when Edmonds singled and Tim Salmon walked to open the sixth--ended when Cecil Fielder hit into a double play and Anderson flied out.

Fielder, who shook off an early-season slump to raise his average to .258 on May 13, has only nine hits in his last 56 at-bats, his average falling to .229. Salmon, hobbled with a foot injury, is batting .211 (12 for 57) since returning from the disabled list May 9.

“We’re not getting much from the middle of the order--it’s no secret Tim and Cecil are not swinging the bat well,” Collins said. “We need them.”

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The Angels also need reliever Mike Holtz to snap out of his slump, but the left-hander’s struggles continued Saturday. Holtz relieved DeLucia in the seventh and gave up two runs on three hits in two-thirds of an inning. He has given up at least a run in each of his last five outings.


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