Hill went seven strong innings, allowing just one hit to advance to 5-1 in 11 starts at Triple-A this season. He struck out nine batters and walked two. His only hit allowed was a third-inning Kenny Kelly single to left center.
The left-hander won his fourth consecutive decision and now has a 1.91 ERA, 95 strikeouts, and 45 hits allowed in 70 2/3 innings with Iowa.
Showcasing the same arsenal of pitches as he did the last time he faced New Orleans, Hill was in control from the first at-bat of the game, effectively throwing his fastball (clocked between 89-92 mph throughout the game), curveball, slider and changeup for strikes.
“I had a lot of guys 0-2 and 1-2, and the efficiency to put them away with the strikeout pitch and to get a lot of groundball outs, that’s the way we play this game,” Hill said. “I had a lot of good defense behind me tonight. All of my pitches were working. Sometimes I get too aggressive with my curveball and try to do too much with it, but I had good command tonight.”
Hill now has 19 strikeouts over his last two starts with no runs and only five hits allowed in that span.
“He worked ahead in the count and had a good feel for all of his pitches,” said Iowa pitching coach Alan Dunn. “He retired the leadoff hitter in six of his seven innings, which is huge.”
Dunn said that he has been working to fine-tune Hill’s approach to the game mentally, which the southpaw admits played a critical role in his struggles with the major league club earlier this year, in which he was 0-4 in as many starts with 15 walks and a 9.31 ERA.
“It’s just the aspect of attacking the hitters and not letting one pitch effect the next from a negative standpoint,” Dunn said. “We want him to build off of his success and not think about anything negative. His focus has been really locked in on his execution.”
Hill worked with a 2-0 lead from the third inning on Monday. Buck Coats led off the third with his fourth home run of the year, a drive to right center that just cleared the outfield wall.
Geovany Soto then hit the very next offering from Zephyrs starter Anastacio Martinez down the right field line for a double. Following a sacrifice bunt from Hill, Soto advanced to third and then scored on Ryan Theriot’s RBI single to right for the only offense Iowa would need.
Kerry Ligtenberg and Michael Wuertz each threw a scoreless inning in relief with Wuertz picking up his seventh save.
“You never worry about a one or two-run lead when you have as good a bullpen as we have here,” Hill said. “It’s shutdown time with these guys.”
Iowa improved to 36-40, still six games back of first-place Nashville in the Pacific Coast League’s American Northern Division. Ryan O’Malley is scheduled to start game two of the series Tuesday with Glendon Rusch starting Wednesday in a minor league rehab assignment. Rusch has been on the DL since June 18 with lower back spasms.
OF Angel Pagan, on the disabled list since late April after straining his hamstring in a game against the Pirates at PNC Park, made the first of three starts against New Orleans this week. He finished 0-for-2 with a walk and stolen base. Pagan will start Tuesday night, have a day off Wednesday, and start again in the series finale Thursday.
With Coats in center, OF Felix Pie was out of the starting lineup with Pagan in right. Pie later took over for Pagan and flied to left in his only at-bat.
Prior to the game, LHP Mark Watson was traded to Oakland and will join Triple-A Sacramento. It was not known at the time who or what the Cubs received in return. Watson was 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA in 23 relief appearances with the team.
On hand for the start of the series were Cubs Assistant to the General Manager Randy Bush and Minor League Field Coordinator Dave Bialas.