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For Hill, it's all about keeping it simple

For Hill, it's about keeping it simple

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MESA, Ariz. -- Rich Hill is the first to admit he's a perfectionist, and it helps and hurts the Cubs left-hander at the same time.

Hill, who is coming off his first full season in the big leagues, heads into Spring Training projected as the No. 4 pitcher in the rotation. As of now, Lou Piniella's rotation includes Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, a still to be determined No. 3, Hill, and a yet to be named No. 5.

Hill, 27, isn't taking things for granted. He's coming off an 11-8, 3.92 ERA season, which earned him the start in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against Arizona. That year is over. It's time to get back to work.

"I still have to go out there and compete and challenge myself and see how good day in and day out I can get," Hill said Saturday.

In the first two days of camp, he's been asked about how much better he'll be in '08, how many games he can win.

"You have to win the first game," Hill said. "You have to heed your own advice. You get questions, 'Do you think you can be one of the best pitchers in the league? Do you think you're going to win 20 games?' You listen to all this, and of course you want to have all that confidence, and you want to say, 'Yes,' but you have to realize it's one pitch, one game at a time. You have to keep that simple mindset.

"For me, I get it pretty jumbled up. I know I can get deep into thinking, 'I have to do this better, I have to do that.' It's a perfectionist attitude, and it can end up hurting you."

Piniella saw it.

"He showed inexperience at times [last year]," Piniella said. "He also showed a lot of talent. I think this young man is ready for a breakout year. He fought himself somewhat too much. He's a little bit of a perfectionist, which is good, but it's not good either -- I'm speaking like Yogi [Berra] now. It makes him fight himself a little."

When Hill was in the Minor Leagues, two of his offseason workout partners introduced him to Chungliang Al Huang's Thinking Body, Dancing Mind, a book that incorporates Eastern philosophy into approaches for optimizing life experiences. It helps the lefty achieve a sense of balance with the mental part of the game. He's continuing to look for more ways.

"I consider myself a little bit different, a little bit out there," Hill said, laughing.

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Maybe it's because he sees things from the left side.

"I just have to continue to build that confidence and once it's there, then let your ability take over," he said. "Get out of your own way and let your ability come out. I'll admit it -- that's what it is with me. I have no problem with that. A few years ago, if I was having trouble doing something, I would've made some excuse up. Now it's, 'Get out of your own way and have fun.' Once that happens, I've seen what it can do. Last year was one of the funnest years I've had in baseball."

It wasn't any one person who helped get that message across.

"It was always a work in progress," Hill said. "I heard it yesterday, one of the guys was saying as soon as you think you've figured this game out, it comes back and bites you. That's the level of respect you have to have for baseball or any sport. To look forward and try to go to another level of mentally developing yourself, it's taking that next step and trying to get into your own book.

"You take your advice from different coaches, different players, different personnel, and you're continuously making your own book. It's a different page every day, a different chapter."

Hill led the Cubs in strikeouts last season with 183, and did well against the NL Central, posting a 7-2 mark and 3.79 ERA. This spring, the Cubs want Hill to quicken his delivery to help him deal with baserunners. It's not a major change, but something to add. Hopefully, it will be something he's comfortable with and doesn't give him one more thing to think about.

Hill has to work on keeping his focus, and was reminded on the first day of camp.

"When you get into these situations, it's new again," he said of spring drills. "If you're going out there to throw a side, and now the media is around and coaches, how can you get your focus to go where you had it last year? It's just to the mitt. You figure that out.

"It's not difficult -- it's difficult to keep it simple. If you want to make it complex, you can make it complex. If you can keep it simple, it's easier on yourself to understand. You say, 'This is where we're going to end up.' You're not going to get there on Day One. [Spring Training] is 45 days. Then you can get on a roll."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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