Boston Red Sox

Rehab complete, Hill returns to majors

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Rehab complete, Hill returns to majors

CHICAGO -- Less than 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery, reliever Rich Hill made it back to the big leagues Friday, promoted from Pawtucket where he had been on a rehab assignment.

"He worked so hard and stayed with the program,'' said Bobby Valentine. "He was religious with his work ethic. It's a credit to a plan that was followed and a guy that was able to follow a plan. The plan wasn't really for (him to return by) April, so that makes it a little remarkable.''

Hill credited his return to "all the work that we did this off-season and put in, everything from the lifts in the gym to the work Mike (Reinold, physical therapist) put in, our shoulder program, everything is starting to pay off. Now that it's over with, it's go time.

Hill made 11 appearances at various stops in the minor league and dominated hitters.

"It comes down to this,'' said Hill. "Every time you go out there, if you throw the ball with conviction and have the ball come out of your hand every time the way you want it too, things are going to more often than not, go your way. I've been saying that throughout the process and I believe it.''

The lefty said he thought the ball was coming out of his hand better than before the surgery last June, and that his velocity has actually improved 2 mph, too.

"It's coming out with more life,'' said Hill. "It just seems that everything is put together better. And that's mostly due to the regimen of working out this past off-season. It's not really rehabbing your elbow; it's more so that you maintain and continue to strengthen your shoulder.''

Valentine declined to get too specfic about how Hill will be used, saying only "not too early (in games), and not for too long.''

That suggests that, at least initially, Hill will be utilized mostly as a lefty specialist.

"I know I can get both righties and lefties out,'' said Hill. "Whatever the need is for this team to win and to move forward, I think everybody has to give their role and step aside from themselves. If you think, 'Hey, I'm not this,' or 'I'm not a lefty specialist,' your role is to help the team to win. That's the bottom line. That's how I feel.''

To make room for Hill, the Red Sox optioned Justin Thomas to Pawtucket.

Eduardo Rodriguez's delivery wasn't the same after knee injury, until recently

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Eduardo Rodriguez's delivery wasn't the same after knee injury, until recently

BALTIMORE — If you suspected Eduardo Rodriguez’s knee created a residual effect with his mechanics as he struggled in the second half, you were correct. 

It was here in Baltimore on June 1 that Eduardo Rodriguez hurt his right knee, suffering another subluxation, which he’s prone to. Once he came back — a month and a half later, after the All-Star Break — his performances didn’t match the competency he’d shown pre-injury.

Through the first nine starts back, Rodriguez had a 5.47 ERA. He appeared clearly outside of the playoff rotation picture.

The last three outings have left a different impression, and are a product of improved mechanics. The Red Sox feel Rodriguez is lifting  right leg, his lead leg, higher now.

“I think Eddy’s regained more confidence physically over his last three starts,” pitching coach Carl Willis said. “We’ve seen a better delivery. Really since he had come back the injury here, a little bit of abbreviated leg lift. He finally got a little more confidence in picking that knee up and getting a little more drive from his lower half. I think that’s made a huge difference. He’s using his changeup more which is also a huge difference, but I think that lower half has allowed him to do that.”

Rodriguez has a 2.55 September ERA. He has strikeout ability that could be appealing in a postseason setting, but he’s young and inexperienced compared to Rick Porcello and Doug Fister. The fact he’s had confidence issues with his delivery could factor into how the Sox decide their playoff rotation, but his upside and strikeout potential are undeniable.

Rodriguez had a knee subluxation in 2016 that affected his mechanics for a time as well.

How often Carson Smith, David Price can throw could make or break Red Sox

How often Carson Smith, David Price can throw could make or break Red Sox

BOSTON — If we accept that pitching is to carry the Red Sox and that bullpens now dominate postseason pitching, a lot for the Sox could boil down to two pitchers, Carson Smith and David Price, and one word: frequency.

Make no mistake, the Red Sox do want Price to pitch like Andrew Miller. Sox manager John Farrell has been trying to soft peddle that idea, which makes some sense. Because what the team doesn’t know, as Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski noted to the Eagle Tribune, is how often Price can throw.

Price himself has described his physical situation as trial-and-error. The lefty could close on Wednesday night against the Orioles, potentially pitching with two days of rest after a very encouraging outing Sunday. (Addison Reed and Craig Kimbrel were both unavailable Wednesday because of workload.)

When would Price next pitch? Can he get to a point where he can pitch in both Games 1 and 2 of an assumed American League Division Series? The same question looms for Smith, who’s making a late but tantalizing run at a bullpen spot.

(The Sox bullpen has been remarkably strong all year with different people cycling through, but its postseason look and usage are different matters.)

Smith, maybe more than Price, may be the biggest surprise as the postseason roster shapes up. For most of the season, it was easy to say, at some point, Smith will contribute. He was targeted for a June activation on the way back from Tommy John surgery. But after several delays, he had to be looked at as a bonus, if something works out. The trade for Reed underscored that.

But he’s back, and his last two outings have been hitless. 

Smith on Wednesday said he wasn’t thinking about the possibility of a postseason roster spot.

“We got a solid group of bullpen arms down there,” Smith said. “It may be a tough group to crack. … I know what I’m capable of, I know the pitcher I was prior to surgery, I know if I got to where I was, I know I can make a push. Right now, I’m just trying to focus on every day.”

Smith’s velocity on Monday was the best it’s been since his return, and velocity was what he was searching for in August while pitching with Triple-A Pawtucket. He earned a save for the Red Sox in Monday’s 11-inning, 10-8 win over the Orioles, with his sinker sitting at 93 mph, per BrooksBaseball.net.

What finally brought the velocity back?

“I’m sure there’s a little bit of extra adrenaline of being in a save opportunity,” Smith said. “That’s something that really hit home with me being a closer at one point in my career. I think with a day’s rest as well, I was beyond fresh after taking six days off. But I think mechanically, I’m sure there’s things that just clicked in that outing and I’m just going to try to focus on that and continue to do that.

“I knew [the velocity] was going to come back. I’ve pitched with 91, 92 mph … sometimes throughout my career. It’s not like I’m always a 94, 95 guy. So I know how to pitch 91, 92. That’s what I’m trying to do if 93, 94 isn’t there.”

Asked to record two outs on Tuesday, Smith wasn’t throwing quite as hard. But merely going back to back was an accomplishment considering his long road.

“I felt good,” Smith said. “I got a situation that [was] something I’ve been able to handle in my previous seasons. But I mean, it was a pretty comfortable situation with the two right-handed hitters and only two outs to get. It was a nice way to ease into back-to-back [games].”

Pitching coach Carl Willis feels like the Sox were smart not to push Smith too far or hard throughout his rehab process. 

In a way, that’s the approach the Sox are taking with Price: a conservative one, by not asking him to build up as a starter.

How often both pitchers can throw could be the key to October.

“It’s been a long haul and there have been times he’s gotten right up to the door of being ready to be active and we’ve had to take a step back,” Willis said of Smith. “As frustrating as that was for him particularly, I think, we’re seeing the benefits of that now. And just doing right and doing what's right by him and not pushing him.”