Here comes Hill

The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles added an option for their crowded and unproven 2009 rotation by acquiring left-hander Rich Hill yesterday in another deal with their frequent trade partner, the Chicago Cubs.

Hill, 28, was considered one of baseball's best young pitchers a year ago, but he has declined sharply since the beginning of 2008. He was demoted after five starts because of an inability to throw strikes, and the trend continued in the minors and in the Venezuelan League this offseason.

"I've seen him with control issues, and I've seen him overcome them," said Orioles president Andy MacPhail, who ran the Cubs when they selected the University of Michigan pitcher in the fourth round of the 2002 amateur draft.

"He has swing-and-miss type stuff when he's on. We recognize there is a potential high upside here, so he certainly will get every opportunity" to make the team.

Hill's 2008 struggles and the fact he is out of minor league options allowed the Orioles to acquire him for a player to be named - the exact swap will be determined based on Hill's 2009 Orioles success. The clubs haven't discussed specific names.

To make room for Hill on their 40-man roster, the Orioles designated left-hander Brian Burres (7-10, 6.04 ERA in 2008) for assignment.

With perhaps three rotation spots open, MacPhail is hoping Hill rediscovers his command once he's reunited with Orioles pitching coach Rick Kranitz and bullpen coach Alan Dunn. Kranitz was Hill's pitching coach at Triple-A Iowa in 2005, and Dunn coached Hill at Double-A Tennessee in 2005 and Iowa in 2006.

MacPhail and Cubs general manager Jim Hendry talked for a few weeks about Hill before agreeing yesterday to the fourth deal between the teams since MacPhail's arrival in Baltimore in June 2007.

Hendry "had a couple of other options," MacPhail said. "But I think the more Jim thought about it, the more he thought it was in his best interest to get [Hill] back with Kranny and Alan Dunn. I think he thought it would really make sense for the kid."

Hill, 6 feet 5 and 205 pounds, had a breakout season for the Cubs in 2007, going 11-8 with a 3.92 ERA in 195 innings. He recorded 183 strikeouts (fifth in the National League) and walked only 65.

But last year, he issued 18 walks in 19 2/3 innings, was demoted and then walked 44 batters in 47 2/3 minor league innings while posting a 5.83 ERA. He pitched in nine games (six starts) for Tigres de Aragua in Venezuela this winter and surrendered 23 hits and 23 walks in 21 innings. Although he battled back trouble last year, the Orioles believe he is healthy.

"I don't know what happened. I haven't seen him in a while," Kranitz said. "He took a couple of steps back. But he's got good stuff. He really does. That curveball is devastating. ... I think the comfort of me with him and knowing him and seeing him in the past, I think he'll come in and be relaxed and open to things."

Hill's addition could create tough roster decisions. Pitchers Hayden Penn and David Pauley are also out of options, and only ace Jeremy Guthrie and Japanese player Koji Uehara are assured rotation spots.

"I'd feel better if we had [John] Smoltz, [Tom] Glavine and [Greg] Maddux in their prime," MacPhail said. "But we've tried to create a situation where there is going to be competition among some guys who either have the pitches or the command to be successful."

Adding Hill does not preclude the Orioles from acquiring another starter before pitchers and catchers report to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Feb. 14.

"I think you're always looking, particularly when you have 100 [free agents] still out there. You'd be foolish to say we're done," MacPhail said. "But with that being said, there is nothing on the horizon that I think is imminent."

Burres, 27, was 13-18 with a 5.88 ERA in 79 games with the Orioles over three seasons. If he is not dealt, Burres will have to clear waivers to remain in the organization.

let's make a deal

The Orioles and Cubs have been frequent trade partners since 2005. Here's a look at the deals:

Date .................... Orioles get .............. Cubs get

2-2-05 ............ Sammy Sosa, cash ...... Jerry Hairston, Mike Fontenot,

.................................... ................ ................... David Crouthers

5-16-05 ......... . . Mike Moriarty ................ Future considerations

1-9-06 .............. Corey Patterson ......... Nate Spears, Carlos Perez

12-6-06 ............ Freddie Bynum ............. Kevin Hart

7-15-07 ................ Bo Hart .................... Future considerations

8-31-07 .... Scott Moore, Rocky Cherry ... Steve Trachsel

1-18-09 ................ Felix Pie ......... Garrett Olson, Henry Williamson

2-2-09 ................ Rich Hill ................... Player to be named

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