Hill at ease on mound in emotional spring debut

Hill at ease on mound in emotional spring debut
March 14, 2014, 5:15 pm
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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Rich Hill was solid on the mound Friday afternoon and fine later talking about his first inning of work this spring.
It was only when the subject of his emotions came up that Hill struggled some.
Less than a month after the veteran pitcher and his wife buried their infant son Brooks, Hill made his Grapefruit League debut. Hill delayed his arrival to Red Sox camp to allow him time to grieve, but after reporting last week, ramped up quickly.
He threw two bullpens and a live batting practice before getting his first game action Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
"It's pretty remarkable how well the ball's getting out of his hand," said John Farrell before the game, "and how quick he's able to get to this level."
Hill came in for the bottom of the fifth inning and retired all three hitters he saw on an infield popup, a flyout to center and a called third strike despite having what he termed "subpar" stuff.
"But it goes back to pitching," said Hill. "So you go out there and pitch. Today was a day where I had to focus a lot more than other days. When your stuff is like it was the other day -- the velocity was there, the ball was jumping out of my hand, the breaking ball was sharp -- (it's easier). Today was more having to focus on feeling the ball come out of your hard and trusting it and executing the pitch.
"It was a great day because you take it as, 'You had B stuff, but you were able to execute and get guys out.' That was exciting for me."
When asked about his emotions as he took the mound for the first time, Hill fought to remain composed.
Blinking back tears and pausing for long stretches, Hill admitted: "It was tough. But it was good. It was good to get out there and pitch . . . At one point, I remember (having) a 3-and-2 count. Before, you'd get this (feeling) of 'Gotta make a pitch, gotta make a pitch here.'
"And it comes to you that you're just playing baseball. This isn't something you were dealing with a few weeks ago. It was kind of a sense of ease, to go out there and play the game the way we were meant to play it as kids. So those were the emotions and the feelings that were out there today. That was really it."
Losing a child has helped Hill put things in their proper perspective.
"In years past," he said, "instead of trying to go out there and just have fun and play the game like we're supposed to be playing it, you feel an overwhelming amount of pressure sometimes to perform.
"But we're out here playing baseball and that's where a lot of the emotions came from, as far as just realizing it's just (about) going out there and trying to have fun, at the core level of the game. Of course, you want to go out there and perform and you want to do well. But from what I can point to, that was it."
The Sox have three lefties seemingly set for the bullpen -- Chris Capuano, Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller -- but Hill could be a valuable depth option.
"We see him as a situational type of guy," said Farrell. "That doesn't mean it's only a one-hitter type guy. To sit here and say that come Opening Day, he's going to be one of our guys . . . I think that's a little premature. But we also have a guy who has a lot of history in the big leagues and a lot of success against lefthanded hitters."