It’s far too soon to reserve a spot in the 2016 rotation for Rich Hill. As well as he has pitched for the Red Sox this month — and the lefthander has been excellent — it’s only three games and 23 innings.
Hill threw a two-hit shutout against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night, walking one and striking out 10. He is 2-0 with a 1.17 earned run average and has struck out 30 with two walks.
But even Hill, 35, doesn’t want to think about what it means for next season.
“I don’t want to even go there, really,” he said. “Just really kind of focus in on tomorrow and get ready for that next start. You want to get to the finish line and worry about [next year] when it comes around.”
Good fortune can color a small sample size and make a player appear to be something he is not. Prior to these three starts, Hill had a 4.72 earned run average over parts of 10 seasons in the majors.
Still, Hill has struck out 36 percent of the hitters he has faced this season and allowed just one extra-base hit.
“Ten strikeouts in three straight outings is a pretty impressive number,” interim manager Torey Lovullo said Saturday before the Sox beat the Orioles, 8-0. “It’s real. It’s not happening because the hitters are overlooking Rich Hill. They’re game-planning for him and they still can’t figure out what he’s doing.”
Toronto scored three runs on five hits in the second inning against Hill on Sept. 20. Beyond that, he has not allowed a run and given up just five hits.
Hill’s fastball is difficult to pick up out of his hands because of the deception in his delivery. He also has shown the ability to throw off-speed and breaking pitches for strikes when behind in the count.
Hill’s success as a starter could not have been predicted.
He was a starter with the Cubs and Orioles from 2005-09, going 21-20 with a 4.87 ERA in 78 games. He switched to the bullpen after shoulder surgery in 2009 and carved out a successful second career with the Red Sox and three other teams.
Hill appeared in only 14 major league games last season and started this year in Triple A with the Nationals. He was released in June and returned to starting at the request of the independent Long Island Ducks.
“They brought it up and I decided to try it,” Hill said. “Been taking one pitch at a time ever since.”
Hill started twice for the Ducks, throwing 11 shutout innings and striking out 21. The Red Sox, who needed a starter at Triple A Pawtucket, signed Hill and he had a 2.78 ERA in five starts there.
The Red Sox promoted Hill on Sept. 8 because of injuries in their rotation. His performance since is unprecedented.
Research by the Elias Sports Bureau found that Hill is the first pitcher in modern history to strike out at least 10 in his first three starts following a gap of five years since his previous start. He is also the first pitcher in history to make his season debut in September and strike out at least 10 in three consecutive games.
Given his age and injury history, a guaranteed contract might be a lot to ask.
“In my personal opinion, you’re always looking for this type of pitching,” Lovullo said. “He certainly deserves some consideration . . . You’ve got to love what he’s done.”
Sandoval shut down
Third baseman Pablo Sandoval still has pneumonia and is “very doubtful” to play again this season, according to Lovullo.
Sandoval has missed six consecutive games because of the illness. If his season is over, Sandoval hit .245 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs, all career lows.
Fellow free agent bust Hanley Ramirez, who was shut down last week because of a shoulder injury, has ceased all baseball activities and is only receiving treatment.
Ramirez and Sandoval combined to give the Red Sox negative-2.2 WAR this season at a cost of $42 million.
Finale for Rodriguez
The Sox will pitch Eduardo Rodriguez, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Hill against the Yankees in the series that starts on Monday in the Bronx.
It will be the final start for the 22-year-old Rodriguez, who already has thrown a career-high 164 innings.
Henry Owens, who starts on Sunday, has two starts remaining before the season ends and is lined up to face Cleveland on Friday.
Minor league awards
First baseman Sam Travis was named the minor league offensive player of the year by the Red Sox, and Greenville infielder Yoan Moncada was named the base runner of the year.
For more information on the minor league awards, click here.
Wright done for season
Righthander Steven Wright still has concussion symptoms and will not pitch again this season. He will be in Pittsburgh on Tuesday to get checked again by Dr. Micky Collins, a specialist . . . Ryan Flaherty, usually an infielder, started in left field for Baltimore for the first time since 2012. The pride of Portland, Maine, made a leaping catch to take a hit away from Xander Bogaerts in the first inning . . . Judy Walden Scarafile threw out the first pitch. She is retiring after 24 years as president of the Cape Cod Baseball League.