FORT MYERS, Fla. — For Rich Hill, the familiar routine of spring training was never more needed than it was this season.
The lefthanded reliever from Milton, Mass., arrived at Red Sox camp Thursday, 10 days after the death of his infant son, Brooks. Teammates greeted him with heartfelt hugs and words of encouragement.
“We had a son on Dec. 26 and he was born with multiple issues that we confronted and had to deal with as we were moving through the last couple of months at Mass General,” Hill said. “Unfortunately, he succumbed. He’s passed. He taught us a lot of things. Unfortunately things didn’t work out.”
The Hill family — Rich, Caitlin, and 2-year-old Brice — flew to Florida Wednesday night.
“My wife has been extremely strong,” said Hill, who turns 34 next week. “We’re going to enjoy our time here and obviously make the most of the opportunity that’s here to play baseball.
“Excited to be here, to be playing baseball again and get back into the normalcy of my profession and to be around a great group of guys and to just take that next step.
“One-day-at-a-time approach, that’s where we’re at, to really enjoy every day.”
Hill was with the Red Sox from 2010-12 and pitched well when healthy, posting a 1.14 ERA over 40 games and averaging 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Hill appeared in 63 games for Cleveland last season despite a 6.28 ERA.
One of the main reasons Hill signed a minor league contract to return to the Red Sox was to remain close to his family.
“There was a strong correlation,” he said. “Fortunately, had the opportunity to come back. The Red Sox have been tremendous through this whole part of our life.
“They were absolutely fabulous. It was 100 percent support all the way.”
Hill said his family has had “tremendous support” from family and friends.
“Extended family, at Mass. General, everybody there has been tremendous,” he said. “The doctors, the nurses, and everybody who cared for our son.”
Hill is hopeful of earning a spot on the Red Sox roster.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I feel that the opportunity is here. The opportunity is here for myself to make the most of it and go out there and do everything that I can on a daily basis to perform.”
The Red Sox have lefthanded relievers Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller on the 40-man roster along with Drake Britton, a minor league starter who pitched in relief in the majors last season.
Lefthanded reliever Jose Mijares also is in camp on a minor league contract.
Lackey gets going
John Lackey pitched for the first time in spring training, going three innings in a minor league intrasquad game at Fenway South.
Lackey was perfect, retiring all nine hitters he faced and striking out six of them. He threw 36 pitches, fastballs and a few changeups.
It certainly beat the alternative, which would have been a long bus ride across the state for the game against the Marlins.
“I just didn’t want to go to Jupiter today, to be honest with you,” Lackey said. “It’s a lot shorter trip here.”
Lackey is scheduled to start Tuesday against Miami at JetBlue Park.
“I felt good,” he said. “Pretty much threw a lot of fastballs, trying to get that location to start off with. Good place to start.”
Lackey was coming off Tommy John elbow surgery when he reported to camp last season. Now he’s pitching with much more peace of mind.
“Definitely just a lot different,” he said. “Last year, you kind of wondered how you were going to feel with the elbow more than trying to locate pitches. I was just trying to see how my elbow was going to feel more than anything.”
Miller faced two batters during the intrasquad game and retired them both.
A quick fix
Allen Webster pitched three scoreless innings in his start in Jupiter. His performance could be credited in part to Jon Lester and Lackey, who while watching video of Webster from last season detected a flaw in the young righthander’s delivery, where he was falling off to the side.
“Before my last start, I sat down and Lackey, Lester, and [Clay] Buchholz, they saw me drift, put me more downhill to the plate,” Webster said. “You pay attention to every word. I was very thankful they took the time to do that.
“I threw a bullpen with it and overexaggerated with it and went out there today. I threw strikes and I got my ground balls. When you get ahead in the count, you tend to get more ground balls and get them swinging.”
Manager John Farrell agreed with the adjustment.
“It eliminates some of the overrotating where he misses on his arm side or down and away,” said Farrell. “He keeps it more north-south and keeps the sink on to get more ground balls.”