Hill dominates as O's shut out Mariners
Starter retires final 14 batters he faces in seven innings
SEATTLE -- If Rich Hill keeps pitching like this, he may turn out to be a fairly expensive acquisition. And if he does, the Orioles will be more than willing to fork over whatever it takes to make his former team happy.
Hill, who was acquired from the Cubs before Spring Training for a conditional player to be named later, mowed through the Seattle lineup Monday, throwing seven scoreless innings in a 1-0 win for Baltimore. The result was the Orioles' second shutout of the season and their first since the first week of the year.
And for Hill, it was something bigger than that. The southpaw rebounded from a substandard start with his best outing in at least a year, giving the Orioles a snapshot of his game at his peak. Baltimore will have to send more to Chicago if Hill continues to thrive, but that's something to worry about after the season.
"I don't know if we're going to see a better-pitched game all year," said manager Dave Trembley. "Good for Rich Hill and obviously great for our club. Let's give credit where credit is due: [Pitching coach] Rick Kranitz and [bullpen coach] Alan Dunn spent an awful lot of time with Rich Hill. That's probably as good as it's going to get."
Hill endured a lost season in 2008, a year spent dealing with back spasms and a tender shoulder. This year, he found himself frozen out of Chicago's rotation and out of options, prompting a trade to Baltimore. And then he dealt with more injury woes, missing most of Spring Training due to a strained left elbow.
The Orioles (24-28) found him a rotation slot, though, and Hill has thrown well in three of his four starts. The left-hander said Monday that he learned from his adversity and doesn't want to experience it again.
"The opportunity that I'm getting is a second chance, and you've got to make the most of it," he said of his move to Baltimore. "To be able to come to the ballpark, to compete and be a Major League baseball player is something that you don't take for granted after the course of events that happened last year."
Hill (2-0) found himself in trouble immediately on Monday, thanks to a leadoff double by Ichiro Suzuki and a throwing error by left fielder Nolan Reimold. Hill managed to strand Suzuki at third, and after walking three batters in the next two innings, the lefty found solace in an educational pep talk from Kranitz.
The coach was fair but firm with Hill, reminding him to get out in front of his fastball and make sure he stayed aggressive. Hill followed that plan to the T and responded by retiring the final 14 batters he faced. Baltimore lifted him after the seventh, and Jim Johnson and George Sherrill combined for two perfect innings.
"I'm real proud of him," said Kranitz, lauding Hill's effort. "This game was a game where he got better. ... He had a runner on third base and nobody out, and he got out of it. He walked the leadoff guy, gave up a base hit [in the third]. That's a big time of the game. You kind of saw which way the game was going with the offense.
"The thing that I liked was he got a lot better with his fastball. It had real good carry to it. That's something that we didn't see his last game. It was really good, especially the fifth, sixth and seventh inning."
That last game, a 12-10 loss to Toronto, saw Hill get away from his game plan. The 29-year-old started throwing four-seam fastballs instead of his normal two-seam pitch, a decision expressly forbidden by Kranitz. This start, Hill concentrated on two-seam fastballs to go with a strong curveball and changeup.
Perhaps lost in Hill's resurgence was the signal work done by rookie catcher Matt Wieters, a factor that both Trembley and his starting pitcher made sure to mention after the game.
"I would think no one will ask me for a while if Wieters has the ability to call a game," said Trembley. "He just passed that litmus test tonight. The preparation that they all put in before the game -- looking at tapes, going over other hitters -- it pays off. Wieters had a feel tonight. You've got to have a feel for what the guy is throwing on the mound and what the guys in the batter's box are doing. Wieters was on the same page."
The Orioles hadn't had a shutout since a 6-0 victory over Tampa Bay on April 11, but they still won by the barest of margins. Former Mariners outfielder Adam Jones hit a leadoff double in the sixth inning and moved to third base on a single by Nick Markakis, and cleanup man Aubrey Huff drove him in with a sacrifice fly to center field.
Seattle (24-28) pushed just two runners to scoring position all game. The Orioles have scored one run in their last 21 innings and just four in their last 30, but they've still found a way to win six of their last eight games. And in Trembley's mind, it doesn't matter how they do it.
"We'll take it, because you learn how to win the close games and it starts with pitching," said Trembley, whose team is 8-15 on the road this season. "You have to make the plays behind you. We'll take it."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.