Here’s why Rich Hill wants to pitch as long as he can
At age 39, Rich Hill is preparing for another comeback.
Hill hasn’t pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers since June 19 when he was pulled from his start against the San Francisco Giants after one inning because of a flexor strain in his left forearm.
The initial fear was that Hill had torn a ligament in his elbow and would be lost for the season.
“That was just for a day,” he said. “Then once we got the MRI, I was able to get a clear diagnosis from [Dr. Neal ElAttrache] and that made me feel a lot better. That it was my flexor and not my ligament made a world of difference.”
Hill is on the 60-day injured list and not eligible to return until next month. But he started a throwing program Thursday, the first step in getting into a game.
Hill spent the All-Star break in Boston with his family then rejoined the Dodgers for the series at Fenway Park last weekend. He used some of the time to talk to members of the Red Sox medical staff about his injury and get their feedback.
“Trying to get as much information as I can,” Hill said. “I’m anxious to get started again.”
For good reason, too. Hill is 41-20 with a 2.93 earned run average in 84 major league games since 2015 when he changed the path of his career by taking advice from then Red Sox scouts Brian Bannister and Jared Porter about how to better shape his curveball and make the high spin rate of his fastball work for him.
Hill was out of baseball at the time, having been released by the Orioles.
“They helped me find a way to be successful,” Hill said. “I had to adapt. That’s the survival aspect, whether you’re in sports or business. What Brian showed me, which was new at the time, was so valuable. I appreciated that so much. It set off the creativity fireworks for me.”
Hill allowed five earned runs over 29 innings for the Sox at the end of that year, but wasn’t promised a starting job for the following season and signed with Oakland. He was then traded to the Dodgers in 2016 and has been with them since.
Hill was 11-5 with a 3.66 ERA last season then allowed only four runs over 16⅔ innings in the postseason. He started Game 4 of the World Series against the Red Sox and gave up one run over 6⅓ innings.
The Dodgers had a 4-0 lead when Hill left the mound. The Sox came back to win, 9-6.
“I try not to think about that game,” Hill said. “You have to move forward.”
Hill averaged 91 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball prior to the injury this season, plenty of velocity to give hitters pause considering he throws his curveball 45 percent of the time. Hill also has the ability to change arm slots from pitch to pitch yet keep his pitches looking the same as they approach the plate.
Once the ball breaks, it’s too late. If they guess curve, he can get them with a fastball. Hill also throws an occasional changeup or sinker, but usually it’s all fastballs and curveballs.
In an era where hitters are angling their swings to get the ball in the air, Hill has a perfect approach.
“I’ve got a pretty good swing-and-miss rate on those two pitches, even my fastball,” Hill said. “Depending on the feel for a certain pitch, I can change from start to start.”
Hill doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon. He had a 2.55 ERA through 53 innings at the time of his injury and believes he can continue on with that level of performance.
Hill is in the final season of a three-year, $48 million contract, so his financial future is secure. He also has 10 years of major league service time, which means he can draw a pension of $220,000 a year if he waits until he’s 62 to collect.
His desire to keep playing at this point is based on how much he enjoys baseball.
“I want to play as long as I can,” he said. “There are things I can’t control, like injuries. Those are outliers. We’ll see how I come back. Hopefully I’m healthy and strong and can come back again after this season. It could be one of those things where I go year to year. I’m not 100 percent sure.
“I love playing baseball. If it’s not at the major league level maybe I’ll go back and play in a men’s league in Boston. But hopefully I can stay in LA. The success we’ve had here is awesome and I want to continue to be a part of that. Obviously there is a business side of that.
“I want to be with a team that’s contending. I played for a championship last season and winning is the ultimate goal.”
Hill has another good reason to continue on: he and his wife Caitlin have a 7-year-old son, Brice. The opportunity to share experiences at the ballpark is meaningful for both father and son.
“It’s really cool. He gets the opportunity to be on the field and he gets an idea of what it’s like to come into the ballpark,” Hill said. “That’s important to me, especially over the next couple of years as he gets older. It’s challenging because he’s in school now. I don’t see him for a month after spring training because they’re back in Boston.”
Hill is one of only five players in history who played for the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, and Dodgers over the course of his career. Willie Banks, Babe Dahlgren, Bobo Newsom, and Johnny Schmitz are the others.
Banks played from 1991-2002. The others played for the Dodgers when they were in Brooklyn.
“I’ve been fortunate to play for those teams and see how much baseball means in places like Boston and those other major markets,” Hill said. “I love it. The postseason experience I’ve been able to gain the last three years makes me appreciate it even more. I have something to offer to teams in places like that.
“The one underlying thing with those teams is that the fans appreciate the effort. In Boston, they want performance. If you don’t perform and you don’t hustle, you’ll get dragged out pretty quick. But if they see the effort is there, the appreciation goes through the roof because people pay their hard-earned money to see the team.”
Maybe Hill could return to the Red Sox one day for what would be a third stint.
“This has always been home,” he said. “The biggest thing is getting a chance to compete. I feel like I have a lot of good pitching left in me.”
GONE, NOT FORGOTTEN
Nunez is a good bet to resurface soon
Baseball moves fast and it wasn’t too long after Eduardo Nunez was designated for assignment Monday that Marco Hernandez moved into his locker in the Red Sox clubhouse.
On the face of it, Nunez was a bad deal for the Sox. For a cost of $9 million, he hit .255 with a poor .644 OPS over two seasons and 187 games. His defense at second and third base was well below average, too.
It was the right move to let him go. Hernandez is a more valuable player at this point.
But don’t forget Game 4 of the Division Series at Yankee Stadium last season. Craig Kimbrel allowed two runs and had two runners on with two outs and a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning when Gleyber Torres hit a slow roller to third base. Nunez charged the ball and ended the series with a strong throw to first.
Had he failed to make that play, the bases would have been loaded for Andrew McCutchen with Kimbrel already having thrown 28 pitches.
Then in Game 1 of the World Series, Nunez cracked a three-run pinch-hit homer to turn a tense 5-4 game into a much easier victory for the Sox.
Players such as Hernandez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Christian Vazquez looked at Nunez as a big brother because of his experience. He has a good sense of humor, too. That matters in a place like Boston where the expectations get heavy.
“He brought energy,” Alex Cora said.
Don’t be surprised if Nunez lands with another team soon. He’s got a few big hits left.
A few other observations on the Sox:
■ How many players would happily take what has been a “down season” for Mookie Betts? He went into the weekend hitting .284 with an .879 OPS. Betts scored 86 runs over the first 97 games of the season. That puts him on pace to finish with 144 runs.
Only Ted Williams has ever scored 140 or more runs in a single season for the Red Sox. The last player in the majors to do it was Alex Rodriguez, who scored 143 times for the 2007 Yankees.
■ The Red Sox are paying only $1,577,000 of Andrew Cashner’s remaining salary this season. The Orioles agreed to pick up $1,777,839 of his salary, plus up to $2.5 million in any bonuses Cashner will earn for accumulating starts and innings.
Cashner needs two more starts to reach 20 and earn $625,000. He is 8⅔ innings away from 110 innings and a bonus of $250,000. He also gets bonuses for 120 innings ($250,000), 130 innings ($275,000), 140 innings ($350,000), and 150 innings ($750,000).
The Orioles also agreed to pay the $3 million remaining on Cashner’s signing bonus. Not counting the signing bonus, the Orioles essentially decided to pay $4,277,839 to get two 17-year-old prospects from the Red Sox.
■ Tyler Thornburg, who was released July 10, remains a free agent. The Sox are responsible for the remainder of his contract outside of the prorated minimum, which is roughly $215,000 at this point.
■ When Nate Eovaldi pitched an inning Thursday afternoon for the PawSox, he left McCoy Stadium shortly after without speaking to the five media people who were covering the game.
Eovaldi was driven back to Boston and did speak to reporters there. But the Red Sox certainly could have asked him to give a few minutes to the people who cover the PawSox.
The PawSox were left sending out a release explaining they had to do what the parent club asked.
Rhode Island has been a good host for Triple A baseball for decades now and will lose its team to Worcester in 2021. The Red Sox should be a little nicer to the folks there.
Memories of Hall inductees say a lot
On the occasion of Mariano Rivera being inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, here’s a little story from my time covering the Yankees.
Rivera blew a save one Friday night and when reporters were let into the clubhouse, he wasn’t available. It was the first time anybody could remember that happening. Rivera was always accountable on those rare occasions he pitched poorly.
The next morning, when the clubhouse opened before a day game, Rivera was waiting for us. He explained that his daughter became sick during the game so he drove his family home immediately afterward.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here for you guys last night,” he said. “I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.”
That little gesture was one of many that demonstrated what kind of person Rivera is. As great as he was on the mound, Rivera made an even better impression on those around him with how he treated people.
As for fellow new Hall of Famer Mike Mussina, he was a character. He made $144 million in his career and would show up at the park with T-shirts from a 1980s television show that he boasted he found online for $10.
But Mussina was hotly competitive, too. In 2006, as he was trying to finish off a shutout against the Tigers, Mussina allowed a run in the ninth inning.
Joe Torre started walking up the dugout steps, which meant Mussina was coming out of the game. Mussina shouted at Torre to stay where he was, then struck out Carlos Guillen to end the game.
“It was a little bit different,” Torre said afterward.
So was Mussina, who won 20 games in his final season in the majors in 2008 then walked away wholly satisfied with what he had accomplished in his career. He has coached high school basketball in his hometown of Montoursville, Pa., since.
Mussina beat the Sox at Fenway Park on the final day of that season (with Rivera getting the save, of course) then joyfully defied manager Joe Girardi’s ban on junk food in the clubhouse by feasting on a McDonald’s burger and fries.
The Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association presents a “Heart and Hustle Award” to a player from every team. The winner for the San Francisco Giants this year was — seriously — Pablo Sandoval. In 2017, after the Red Sox released him, Sandoval wrote in The Players Tribune, “Every day I spent in Boston, my heart was still back in San Francisco.” Sandoval hit .237 over parts of three seasons with the Red Sox. His best hustle was convincing Ben Cherington he would play hard . . . Birthday greetings this week go out to Gary Waslewski, who is 78. The Connecticut native made his major league debut with the Red Sox in 1967 and started Game 6 of the World Series, a surprise choice by manager Dick Williams considering he had not made a start since July 29. Waslewski allowed two runs over 5⅓ innings in a game the Sox won, 8-4. “Waslewski did one heck of a job,” Williams said at the time. “He had no starting jobs for quite a while, but he did it today. He was marvelous.” Waslewski stayed with the Sox in 1968 then was traded to the Cardinals. He went to play for the Expos, Yankees, and Athletics. His son, also named Gary, is the orthopedic surgeon and works with the professional teams in the Phoenix area. Happy birthday as well to Henry Owens, who is 27. He was a supplemental first-round pick of the Sox in 2011 and had a 5.19 ERA in 16 major league starts before being claimed off waivers by the Diamondbacks. Owens is now a member of the independent Kansas City T-Bones along with former Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava and Framingham native Chris Colabello.