A star-crossed evening for Soriano

Tribune staff reporter

Cubs manager Lou Piniella was left without answers on Friday when trying to explain the puzzling pitching of Rich Hill and the clueless defensive play of Alfonso Soriano.

While Soriano was able to make up for his defensive lapses with a game-tying, two-run home run in the ninth inning, Hill's ineptitude forced Piniella to remove him in the first inning and use almost his entire bullpen in a 5-3, 11-inning loss to St. Louis.

"Hill can't start like this in the big leagues," Piniella said. "C'mon. Every time he pitches, it's an adventure. He's doing his best, but we have no bullpen. I don't know what the solution is, but I can't start him any more until this thing gets taken care of."

Skip Schumaker's two-run home run off Chad Fox in the 11th ended it, but the Cubs had plenty of opportunities to win it before then, only to fail in the clutch on several occasions.

As for Soriano, it was another day of big risk, big reward. The risk of playing him late in games cost the Cubs a seventh-inning run when he failed to catch a routine pop-up and then showed some alligator arms on a Yadier Molina shot that wound up as an RBI double.

"I've got no explanation for those left field plays," Piniella said. "I really don't."

Soriano ended an 0-for-8 streak in his comeback with a ninth inning shot off Jason Isringhausen, but he acknowledged getting some bad jumps on the two misplays.

"I've got to work a little bit more with my jumps," he said. Two weeks not playing in the outfield made me feel a little weird in left field, but I'm OK. I had a very good last two years in the outfield. I had a couple bad games, but that's part of the game."

Adding to the Cubs' troubles, Aramis Ramirez was hit by a pitch in the left wrist and left the game later on. X-rays on the wrist proved negative, but Ramirez said the swelling is so severe that he doubted he'd be able to play on Saturday.

When Hill failed to get out of the first, Piniella's team was already behind the 8-ball. Making his first start after another eight-day rest, Hill walked four men in the first, forcing in a run.

Piniella removed him with only two outs, leaving the young left-hander looking staggered and stunned by the earliest hook of his major league career. Piniella said he may insert Sean Marshall into the rotation next week, with Scott Eyre almost ready to return from his minor league rehab stint.

Hill blamed himself for the loss, but seemed oblivious to his status as a man walking on a tightrope. His outing was the shortest for a Cubs starter since Ted Lilly lasted only 2/3 of an inning against Atlanta last June 10th at Turner Field.

But Lilly was ejected from the game for allegedly throwing at Edgar Rentaria. The last Cubs starter who failed to last an inning due to his own performance was Steve Smyth, who was removed after giving up six runs in 1/3 of an inning on Aug. 22, 2002 at Houston.

Whether or not Hill will remain in the rotation is no longer the question. The real debate is whether he can still remain in the majors after walking 18 batters in 19 2/3 innings and losing his confidence at the same time?

"It's embarrassing to go out there and throw the ball that way," he said. "The best way to move on is to forget about that outing and come back tomorrow."


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