Cubs 3, Braves 0

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ATLANTA (AP)—Rich Hill has no interest in knowing where he ranks among baseball’s best pitchers.

“If you say that one of your main goals is to have 200 innings, everything else should take care of itself,” the left-hander said. “The thing I focus on is going out there and making that one pitch. You’re aggressive and you throw with conviction. I can’t stress that enough.”

Hill allowed four hits in eight scoreless innings, Michael Barrett and Aramis Ramirez backed him with solo homers, and the Chicago Cubs defeated the Atlanta Braves 3-0 on Thursday night.

Chicago, which had lost two straight and seven of nine, had a third straight masterful start from Hill (3-0). He struck out seven and walked three, lowering his ERA to 0.41, best in the majors.

“He’s pitching as well as anybody in baseball,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. “Today we really needed to rest our bullpen one more day, and he gave us what we needed.”

Since Sept. 1, 2006, Hill is 6-1 with a 1.24 ERA in eight starts following a Cubs loss.

Ryan Dempster earned his third save with a perfect ninth.

The Braves fell into second place in the NL East by a half game, swapping places with the Mets, who defeated Florida 11-3. Atlanta starts a three-game series in New York on Friday night.

With one out in the eighth, Hill stumbled on the front end of his delivery, sailing the ball far over Kelly Johnson’s head.

“I just caught cleat on the way down,” Hill said.

Johnson walked on the next pitch, but Hill struck out Edgar Renteria and retired Chipper Jones on a hard grounder to end the inning.

“He’s good, man,” said Johnson, who went 2-for-3 with a double. “He threw a lot of strikes. Strikes, strikes and more strikes. That’s all it was.”

Barrett’s second homer gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the fourth off Mark Redman (0-3).

Ramirez made it 2-0 with his second homer in the sixth. Left fielder Matt Diaz, running hard to his left, crashed into the wall in a vain attempt to catch the ball.

Chicago took a 3-0 lead in the eighth on Mark DeRosa’s RBI double.

Atlanta had won two straight and three of four, but the Braves had runners in scoring position just three times. The heart of Atlanta’s order—Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Jeff Francoeur—went 1-for-10.

Hill won his second straight start against the Braves.

“He had a great curve ball going tonight,” Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. “We just could not hit him. They’ve got a good young pitcher here.”

Redman allowed seven hits, three runs and two walks in 7 1/3 innings. He struck out five.

Redman’s performance was far better than his first two starts, when he went 0-2 with a 12.69 ERA. Working with Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell helped Redman locate his arm slot.

“I felt like I was up too high the first couple of games,” Redman said. “I dropped down into a comfortable slot. The ball was coming out a lot firmer, crisp, and a lot of action on the ball.”

Barrett, Chicago’s everyday catcher, believes Hill has a chance to dominate if he continues to focus on locating every pitch.

“He’s aggressive throwing strikes,” Barrett said. “He’s been able to throw his curveball for strikes, and that has been a big bonus.”

Notes

Braves RHP Lance Cormier, who missed the first 15 games with a strained right triceps, will have a rehab appearance on Sunday at Single-A Rome. He’s expected to make between 40-45 pitches over two-three innings. … The Cubs improved to 2-8 at Turner Field since July 4, 2005.

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