One problem solved, maybe. The second is still a work in progress.
Rich Hill became the first Cubs left-hander to win a game this season, a day after Ted Lilly failed for the fourth time, but he needed a bullpen boost to get there.
"That's a start in the right direction," manager Lou Piniella said. "He needs to build on this now."
Starting after seven full days of rest after plodding in Pittsburgh, Hill gave up only one run in five innings of a 3-2 triumph over the Pirates that gave the Cubs nine victories in their last 12 games.
"There wasn't anything mechanically that had to be adjusted," said Hill, who came into the game with a 5.00 ERA. "It was just the approach. I stayed aggressive and was attacking. … I wasn't doing that.
"It's almost to prove something to yourself to pitch like you know how to pitch."
Never mind that Hill was pulled after five innings, the end result is what counted.
"I thought he could go a little more than five, but, look, let's build a foundation, let's get a base in place," Piniella said.
"And how do you do that? By giving a young pitcher a chance to win a game. The bullpen did just that for him."
Piniella used four relievers, including former starters Jon Lieber (two-thirds of an inning) and Sean Marshall (one-third) to get through the sixth inning.
"There was more in there, but I think it was definitely something to build off and a confidence-booster going into the next outing," Hill said
It wasn't always easy for Hill, who had eyes rolling again when he walked Nate McLouth on four pitches to start the game. But he struck out Luis Rivas, picked McLouth off first and then retired Freddy Sanchez on a fly ball to have a scoreless inning.
The second wasn't as good, as he allowed a run on three hits, but he was fortunate to face pitcher Ian Snell with two outs. Snell struck out swinging.
The Cubs' defense helped Hill as well, including a Reed Johnson over-the-shoulder catch at the center-field wall.
"I was really listening more than anything," Johnson said. "When you [get to] the warning track, you really don't feel too much, you just kind of hear the difference between hitting the grass and the warning track. I just opened my ears and knew I had a couple of steps left so I didn't have to panic."
The Cubs were errorless after starting the day fourth from the bottom in defense.
"I've been somewhat surprised that we haven't played nearly as well as I thought we would," Piniella said. "I figured that was one of our strengths."
The latest Cubs problem—besides the left-handed starters—is working on signs from third base coach Mike Quade. Henry Blanco thought he saw a bunt sign Thursday even though the bunt wasn't on. Hill swung away after he was given the bunt sign Friday, bouncing into a force play.
"We have to talk about these signs a little," Piniella said.
Hill apparently knows the signs.
"I saw [infielders] crashing in [and decided to swing]," he said. "It's something we practice … and I thought it was a good time to break it out."
Of course, all's well that ends well, and Hill received help offensively in the fourth inning on Kosuke Fukudome's first triple and singles from Mark DeRosa and Johnson sandwiched around a Geovany Soto double, good for three runs.
At least Piniella was able to avoid for a day the what-if questions about what to do with his two struggling left-handers.
One down, one to go.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun