The journey that Rich Hill has endured, from being a fringe minor leaguer to having to resort to playing independent ball, has been a wild ride full of twists and turns. Now he finds himself with a new 3-year $48 million contract with the Dodgers along with sky-high expectations.
Rich Hill’s career started back in 2002, when he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs out of Michigan. Since then, he has played for the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Anaheim Angels, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, and now the Los Angeles Dodgers. After finding his form in 2015 with the Red Sox, Hill signed with the Athletics for 2016. There he posted a 2.45 ERA in 14 starts and became a trade target for many contending teams at the trade-deadline.
The Dodgers acquired Hill in hopes of finding themselves an ace to back up Clayton Kershaw for a playoff run. They also needed him while Kershaw was out with back problems. The team was happy with the performance he gave them down the stretch and into the playoffs.
He appeared in 34 innings last year and had an ERA of 1.83 in that time period. He pitched in three playoff games for the team, including a six-inning shutout in the NLCS. His only blemish was Jose Lobaton connecting on a three-run home run in Game 2 of the NLDS.
After the Cubs eliminated the Dodgers in the NLCS, questions popped up about what Rich Hill’s fate with the team would be. With teammates Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen also hitting free agency, would the team want to spend enough to keep all three? Andrew Friedman surprised everyone when the team resigned the trio to lucrative contracts and showed that the time to win is now.
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Hill comes into this season slated as the number three starter in the rotation. He’s theoretically the number two starter, but Roberts has said he would like to break up Hill and Kershaw with Maeda because it would add more balance.
Many have started to worry about Hill since he’s had a horrendous Spring Training. To those people, I would suggest remaining calm because it’s only Spring Training. Yes, the 8.03 ERA and 1.85 WHIP he currently has do not look good. However, the .205 batting average against looks very good. Like I said, it’s Spring Training, try not to get too worked up about ERA.
The best news out of Spring Training is the fact that there have been no discussions of any injuries to Hill. Injuries have been something Hill has long struggled with. In his long career, he has dealt with a laundry list of injuries which includes a torn labrum and Tommy John surgery. Last year, his main concern was a blister that kept appearing on his finger.
With a history like Hill’s, the team made sure to have the depth to withstand a DL stint or two. However, out of the gates he looks 100 percent. Hopefully, this year he can stay healthy enough to give the team a strong 130-140 innings; if he can reach that, the team would be more than happy.
Hill is 37-years-old now, and questions have continued to come up, as his rise to an ace level pitcher is certainly unprecedented. How could a 12-year journeyman pitcher become elite after so long? Well, you could look at his lethal curveball as the biggest reason. His curveball had one of the top spin rates in 2016 and it’s a pitch that scouts drooled over when he was coming out of college.
He makes it even tougher to hit when he starts changing his arm angles and combines it with his pinpoint control. His frequent use of the curveball makes his fastball, which consistently sits around 88-91 mph, more effective because it seems like it’s so much faster than it actually is. Hill’s success has come from these aspects of his game and seems to have saved his career.
As the Dodgers inch closer and closer to the regular season, many eyes are on Hill to be the ace behind Kershaw. Since 2015, only Kershaw holds a lower ERA than Hill in the majors. With those two leading the rotation, the Dodgers can expect to have one of the best 1-2 punches in the game.