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

First impressions: Price, Pedroia lead Red Sox to 8-3 win over Royals

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First impressions: Price, Pedroia lead Red Sox to 8-3 win over Royals

BOSTON -- First impressions from the Red Sox 8-3 win over the Kansas City Royals:

 

David Price has found a groove.

Price finally brought his ERA below 4.00.

He’d been about that mark since his second start of the season. Twenty-six starts later, he finally reached the mark.

Saturday’s start marked Price’s fourth-straight quality start. Price will soon eclipse the 200-strikeout, reaching 186 K’s with his seven-strikeout performance.

Although the lefty hasn’t been at his best throughout much of the year, he’s caught fire of late.

Possibly at the most important part of the season, too.

 

Dustin Pedroia just missed making history, can’t buy an out.

Boston’s second baseman entered Saturday with seven hits in his last seven at-bats. He stretched that streak to 11-for-11 with a 4-for-4 game.

He had the chance to go 12-for-12 in the eighth, but weakly grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.

He’s also the first Red Sox player with three straight four-hit games at Fenway Park since 1913.

Boston’s second baseman continues to prove that his struggles in recent years were directly related to injuries, not diminishing performance.

 

The offense passed a big test.

It might’ve appeared that Danny Duffy was a middle-of-the-road pitcher with the way Red Sox hitters tattooed him in Saturday’s win.

But the right only had one loss in 19 starts, with a 2.66 ERA (2.61 as a starter).

Between the long balls and Dustin Pedroia’s incessant ways of late, they ballooned his ERA to 3.01.

A respectable number, still, but a jump of nearly a half of a run.

 

Sandy Leon’s in a minor cold spell.

Possibly the greatest story of Boston’s 2016 offense, Leon hasn’t had too many struggles along the way.

But after finishing 0-for-4 Saturday night, he’s only 2-for-21 (.095) in his last five games.

Saturday also marked only the third time all season where he was held hitless in back-to-back games.

These things happen to everyone, but it was starting to look like Leon didn’t fall under the category of “everyone.”

Bryan Holaday: David Price 'takes a lot of pride in what he does'

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Bryan Holaday: David Price 'takes a lot of pride in what he does'

BOSTON -- There have been a significant amount of question marks surrounding David Price throughout his inaugural season with the Boston Red Sox.

Is he an ace? Is he mentally tough enough? Can he handle Boston?

Just to name a few.

Much like any player imported to Boston, the claim “He can’t handle the pressure in Boston” arises every so often.

And Price hasn’t always been his own best friend, frequently relying on the line “It’s me going out there and making pitches,” in addition to the claim that he’s never satisfied.

Price’s mellow demeanor isn’t something Boston fans are accustomed to -- they prefer Rick Porcello snarling at opponents.

Sometimes it might have seemed as if he lacked a killer instinct or didn’t have a sense of urgency, but Bryan Holaday, who played with Price in Detroit, has seen that’s not the case.

‘I’m sure he [pressing], it’s the nature of this game,” Holaday said about Price’s struggles earlier in the season. “Everybody wants to be at their best all the time and it’s not easy to do.”

However, he says that knowing full well that Price won’t display those emotions -- to anyone.

“He does such a good job on the mental side of things that even if he was, you wouldn’t be able to tell,” Holaday said before Price’s start Saturday night. “He’s never going to express anything like that. If he was [pressing], it’s nothing that anyone would be able to notice.”

There’s a lot to be said for that, too. Although baseball is driven on analytics, there’s no question that mental game is crucial, especially in the clubhouse. And a fly on the wall can easily see that Price’s presence is not only respected, but enjoyed by his teammates in the clubhouse.

“Everyday he gets up he wants to get better and that’s what makes him so good,” Holaday said. “He has that drive to be better everyday and come out and do his job. He takes a lot of pride in what he does and works his ass off. That’s why he is who he is. Any pitcher at that level, you don’t get that way by luck.”

Price may never be Boston’s favorite pitcher.

He may never be the “ace” in everyone’s eyes.

But based on Holday’s interpretations from his time in Detroit and Boston, Price will work hard to turn his first few months with the Red Sox into a minor footnote of his career.

Saturday's Red Sox-Royals lineups: Young in LF, Hill at 3B vs. KC lefty Duffy

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Saturday's Red Sox-Royals lineups: Young in LF, Hill at 3B vs. KC lefty Duffy

The Red Sox look to end their three-game losing streak tonight when the play the middle game of their three-game series with the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park.

Against Royals' left-hander Danny Duffy (11-1, 2.66 ERA), the Red Sox start right-handed hitters Chris Young in left field and Aaron Hill at third base. Duffy has won his past 10 decisions and came into Saturday with the fifth-best ERA in the American League. He joined the rotation from the bullpen on June 1.

Left-hander David Price (12-8, 4.00) gets the start for the Red Sox. Price has won his past three decisions, going eight, six and eight innings and not allowing more than three runs in each start. 

The Royals won the series opener 6-3 Friday night.

The lineups:

ROYALS
Paulo Orlando CF
Cheslor Cuthbert 3B
Lorenzo Cain RF
Eric Hosmer 1B
Kendrys Morales DH
Salvador Perez C
Alex Gordon LF
Alcides Escobar SS
Christian Colon 2B
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Danny Duffy LHP

RED SOX
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Mookie Betts RF
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Sandy Leon C
Chris Young LF
Aaron Hill 3B
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
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David Price LHP