Here's the thing. Rich Hill wasn't awful, but neither was he good, and his outing merely reinforced my previous opinion of him: he needs to get a third pitch he can rely on, and he needs to learn to spot his fastball.
The heater's the biggest issue, in my opinion, as it's neither fast enough nor slippery enough to allow him to get away with being all over the place with it, a la Kerry Wood. He also cannot, cannot, cannot let it be anywhere up in the zone. It can be up out of the zone, but he can't throw it above mid-thigh for strikes unless he wants to get pasted to the center field wall.
I still don't understand the organizational fascination with this kid. When he can throw it for a strike, his curveball's fantastic, but there's no reason for a Major League hitter to do anything but sit and wait for him to either walk him or get a fastball up in the yummy zone, and unless Hill can fix that, he's going to yet another story of promise unfulfilled.
Not that the National League needs more certain ways to eliminate Cub-related offensive threats, but if I were the manager of a club about to face the Cubs, and I had a pitcher on the mound who threw anything like a decent changeup, I would fine him into the ground if he ever threw anything but that pitch to Jacques Jones.
I know Jason Schmidt's something of a unique case, because his change is truly vicious, but note the way he used it against Jones last night versus the way he used it against the rest of the lineup. For everyone else, it was fastballs with changeups mixed in - a complimentary flavor; for Jones, it was change after change after change - the lamb shank as main course - and Jacques was completely unable to adjust to it, swinging over the top every single time. Why throw a fastball when he looks that bad?
Before the season began I wrote about a theory I had relating to Juan Pierre and his hitting style. Baited by some quotes in the paper, I posited that, due to his low walk rates and low rate of pitches seen per at bat, that he was likely screwing himself out of opportunities to take the occasional free pass or get better hitter's counts by swinging early at the first good pitch he saw. Well, now I've had a chance to see quite a lot of his work, and my opinion has altered accordingly.
What Pierre does instead is get himself in the hole right off the bat. Here's the quick breakdown:
First Pitch Result
That's 58.5% of his at bats where he starts off 0-1, and exactly 70% where he either starts 0-1 or puts the ball in play. For comparison purposes, Todd Walker starts off 0-1 45.6% of the time, Michael Barrett 47.1%, Aramis Ramirez 45.8%, Matt Murton 41.3%, even Ronny Cedeno's at 49.1%.
Clearly, Pierre is getting himself in trouble early in at bats by taking strikes, and from my observations, I don't think it's because pitchers are throwing him less hittable pitches than they're giving to his teammates. In fact, I think this little bit of data backs up my thought that Pierre is actually letting a lot of decent first pitches go, which are being thrown to him because a) he's not very aggressive on that first ball, and b) even if he was, he isn't much of a threat to do anything but hit a grounder through the hole.
So, since Pierre can't do much about b), I'm going to advocate something I never thought I would: Pierre needs to be more aggressive about putting decent first pitches in play. It's clearly not helping him to sit back and wait for something better, and it seems to me if you want to occasionally get ahead in the count, you have to give the pitcher a reason to be careful with you, and always sitting back and letting that first ball go isn't going to get the job done.
And now, a pause, whilst I go shower.
At this point, all I'm doing is crossing my fingers that Z has really figured it out, and that Matt Cain has the same sort of outing he's been having all year. Maybe then, this club can squeak out a 2-1 victory, and when that's what passes for hope, ya ain't got much.