Boston Red Sox

Hill evolves in hopes of pitching for Sox

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Hill evolves in hopes of pitching for Sox

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Change is inevitable for most pro athletes, but Rich Hill has weathered more than his share in the last year.

First, he transitioned from starter to reliever last year, a concession partly made by a shoulder injury from the year before. Then, Hill joined the Red Sox organization last summer, the fourth team he's been with in his career. Finally, at the behest of former pitching coach John Farrell, Hill began throwing sidearm on a full-time basis.

With the changes behind him, Hill, a native of Milton, is free to concentrate fully on baseball and the roster battle to make the 2011 Red Sox.

Hill, who turns 31 in two weeks, finds himself part of a crowd in contention for two final spots in the Boston bullpen. Fellow lefties Hideki Okajima, Dennys Reyes and Andrew Miller are in the mix, along with righties Scott Atchison, Matt Albers and Alfredo Aceves, but Hill insists he doesn't spend much time analyzing his chances.

"Those are all distractions that you can't control,'' Hill said, "so you've got to be able to control those distractions and do what you have to do and staying in your routine. That's all that really matters.''

Hill's 2010 season began in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization, with Hill clinging to the notion that he could still be a successful starter, as he had been when he was 11-8 with a 3.92 ERA for the 2007 Chicago Cubs.

But after mid-season, he opted out of his Triple A deal with St. Louis and went to Pawtucket, where he started and relieved but began eying the bullpen as his long-term assignment.

Farrell thought Hill might benefit from the change in delivery, since it would make his motion more deceptive.

"I think it gives a different look out of the bullpen,'' Hill said. "Lefty-on-lefty or even lefty-on-righty, it created a different angle. Really, it's something that has come easy. It's natural. It feels like free and easy when I'm down there.

"John and I were talking about it. They liked what they saw from down there and wondered if I could stay down there all the time. I had done it before when I was starting. Every once in a while, I'd drop down to throw a breaking ball or fastball to a lefty. It gave them a surprise look that they weren't used to and made them feel very uncomfortable in the box. If you can make a hitter feel uncomfortable, that's a big advantage.''

The change was a significant one, but Hill didn't have to be convinced of the wisdom of the switch. From the beginning, he saw the benefits.

"I'm all in,'' he said. "I enjoy it. I feel that it's something hopefully will promote longevity and help me pitch longer at this level. (The sidearm motion) feels natural. I think it's always been there. Just to make the switch, it's really buying into it and applying yourself. You're not going to say, 'OK, if it doesn't work, I'm going to switch (back) at the drop of a hat.' You have to be persistent and be committed to it.''

Given an eight-game audition last September, Hill began dropping down with most of his pitches and saw immediate results.

"(Hitters) were uncomfortable,'' he recalled. "When you have that, that gives you some confidence. When (even) righties starting reacting, that's when you know there's something there. That's what made me want to explore this a little more.''

While Hill has bought into the changes mentally, the execution, he freely admits, still needs some refinement.

"Part of the process now,'' he said, "is finding the consistency (with the release point). One thing we've been working on here is trying to get the fastball down and in on the righties and away from the lefties. That's the biggest thing now, with the fastball. The changeup's been great, breaking ball's been great. If I can command the fastball, that's just going to build the pitch-to-pitch process and help me become more efficient.''

In the Boston bullpen, five spots are spoken for, all by righties. The Sox could carry one, two or no lefthanders, depending on spring performance, options and other factors.

But whether Hill makes the Opening Day roster or begins the season in Pawtucket, he would prefer not to be restricted to a role as a lefty specialist.

"I'd like to be able to go out there and get lefties and righties out,'' he said. "I believe I can do that. I did it last year. There were qualitiy righty hitters that I got out. It creates a whole other level, where you can go, where you can take this.''

The experience of pitching for the home team last September only whetted Hill's appetite. He had interest from other teams last winter, but elected to re-sign with Boston even if it meant accepting a minor league deal.

After his cameo last fall, he feels more familiar and comfortable this time around.

"Coming into a spring training,'' he said, "you go to camp where you know trainers, front office, the guys on the team. That without question contributed to coming back.''

So, too, did the opportunity to pitch for a team with championship goals. That he's joining such a team in his hometown makes it all the more rewarding.

"There are only a few places like this,'' said Hill of the Boston experience. "You want to be part of something like this. For me, it just happens to be made better that this is where I'm from, where I grew up and the team that I enjoyed watching.

"It's something that not many guys get to experience. Guys that play at this level, that's a great achievement. But to do it in your own hometown is something special.''

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Drellich: In appreciation of a peculiar, throwback Red Sox offense

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Drellich: In appreciation of a peculiar, throwback Red Sox offense

BALTIMORE — On the night Major League Baseball saw its record for home runs in a season broken, the team with the fewest homers in the American League took a scoreless tie into extra innings.

In the 11th, the Red Sox won in a fashion they hadn’t in 100 years.

Just how peculiar was their 1-0 win over the Orioles, the AL leaders in homers? The lone run came when Jackie Bradley Jr. bolted home on a wild pitch from Brad Brach. So? So, the Red Sox won, but did not officially record a run batted in on the day MLB’s greatest league-wide power show to date was celebrated.

MORE:

The last time the Sox won an extra-inning game without recording an RBI was a century ago, in 1918. Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth played in that game. 

It’s a weird time for the Sox offense. A weird year, really. Because the Sox are in first place, and have been, but they don’t drive the ball. Their .408 slugging percentage was the fifth lowest in the majors entering Tuesday.

They’re also in the bottom third for strikeouts, the top five in steals and the top 10 in batting average (.260). That's the description of an effective National League offense. An old-school, move-the-line group that makes more contact than all but four teams in the majors. 

The rest of baseball is switching to golf swings to pound low-ball pitching. The Sox look like they could be on a black-and-white newsreel shuffling around the bags.

Should you have faith in that method come the playoffs? There's reason to be dubious.

But the construction should be appreciated for the sake of disparity, both in the context of recent Red Sox history and the sport’s home-run renaissance.

Alex Gordon of the Royals hit the season’s 5,964th home run Tuesday, besting the record mark set in 2000 — dead in the middle of the steroid era.

At present, the Sox lineup is particularly out of sorts because of injuries. Dustin Pedroia should be back Wednesday, but was out of the starting lineup Tuesday. Hanley Ramirez isn’t starting either. Eduardo Nunez’s rehab from a knee injury is coming along, but may not move quite as quickly as expected.

Even if all are healthy, this group remains strange. Because the Sox offense looks so different than what people expect of the Sox, the opposite of what people expect of an American League East-winning team. The opposite of what people expect of any American League team, period.

The arms are the driving force for the Sox, and must remain so if they’re to be successful in October. The sturdiness of the bullpen, tired but resolute, cannot be understated when the workload is extended in September. No team can go 15-3 in extra-inning games without stellar and timely pitching.

But the entirety of pitching coach Carl Willis’ staff has been wonderful. Drew Pomeranz didn’t have his best fastball velocity on Tuesday and was still effective in 6 1/3 innings.

The outfield play can’t be overlooked either. Bradley’s a brilliant patrolman in center field and his leaping catches to rob home runs — he took one away from Chris Davis Tuesday — have been their own attractions.

The Sox, meanwhile, just don't hit many balls far enough to be robbed.

If you’re cut from an old-school cloth, and didn’t really love those station-to-station, home-run powered offenses of yore, this Sox team is for you. There's something to be said for the experience of simply watching something different.

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Red Sox score on wild pitch in 11th for 1-0 win over Orioles

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Red Sox score on wild pitch in 11th for 1-0 win over Orioles

BALTIMORE -- Though they rank last in the American League in home runs, the Boston Red Sox have found plenty of other ways to win - especially in extra innings.

Jackie Bradley Jr. scored the game's lone run on a wild pitch by Brad Brach in the 11th inning, and Boston used six pitchers to silence the Baltimore Orioles' bats in a 1-0 victory Tuesday night.

Boston has won 10 of 13 to move a season-high 23 games over .500 (87-64) and draw closer to clinching a postseason berth. The Red Sox started the day with a three-game lead over the second-place New York Yankees in the AL East.

It was the second straight tight, lengthy game between these AL East rivals. Boston won in 11 innings on Monday night and is 15-3 in extra-inning games - tying a franchise record for extra-inning wins set in 1943.

In this one, pitching and defense proved to be the winning formula. After Drew Pomeranz allowed five hits over 6 1/3 innings, five relievers held the Orioles hitless the rest of the way.

"They've been able, to a man, hand it off to the next guy and continue to build a bridge until we can scratch out a run - tonight not even with an RBI," manager John Farrell said. "We find a way to push a run across."

With a runner on second and two outs in the 11th, Brach (4-5) walked Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts to load the bases for Mitch Moreland, who sidestepped a bouncing pitch from Brach that enabled Bradley to score without a throw.

Joe Kelly (4-1) worked the 10th and Matt Barnes got three outs for his first save.

"They've been unbelievable," Boston's Brock Holt said of the bullpen. "That's why our record is what is in extra-inning games, because of those guys."

The game stretched into extra innings in part because Bradley made a sensational catch to rob Baltimore slugger Chris Davis of a home run in the fifth inning. Bradley quickly judged the trajectory of the ball while running to his left, then left his feet and stretched his arm over the 7-foot wall in center field.

The finish came after Pomeranz and Kevin Gausman locked up in a scoreless duel that was essentially the exact opposite of Monday night's 10-8 slugfest.

Although he didn't get his 17th win, Pomeranz lowered his ERA to 3.15 and set a career high by pitching at least six innings for the 17th time (in 30 starts).

Gausman was even sharper, giving up just three hits over eight innings with one walk and seven strikeouts.

The right-hander retired the first 14 batters he faced before Rafael Devers singled off the right-field wall.

Baltimore threatened in the third inning when Manny Machado hit a two-out double, but he was thrown out by Benintendi trying to score on Jonathan Schoop's single to left field.

No one else got to third base until the sixth, when Baltimore had runners at the corners with two outs before Pomeranz struck out Mark Trumbo with a high, outside fastball.

The Orioles have lost 11 of 13 to fall out of contention.

"They're very frustrated right now," manager Buck Showalter said. "You can imagine grinding as our guys have since February and not being able to push a run like that across in some of these games when we pitch well. That's been a challenge for us. I feel for them because I know how much it means to them."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: 2B Dustin Pedroia, who left Monday's game in the fourth inning after fouling a ball off his nose, did not start but was used as a pinch hitter in the 10th inning and grounded into a double play. Farrell said Pedroia will likely return to the starting lineup Wednesday. . DH Hanley Ramirez (left arm soreness) was out of the starting lineup for the sixth consecutive game. Farrell said Ramirez was available to pinch hit and is likely to start Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: Chris Sale (16-7, 2.86 ERA) will seek to match his career high in wins Wednesday night in the series finale. He needs 13 strikeouts to become the first AL pitcher with 300 in a season since Pedro Martinez in 1999.

Orioles: Wade Miley (8-13, 5.32 ERA) has lost his last three starts. The left-hander gave up six runs and got only one out against the Yankees on Friday night.