McAdam: Sox will miss Hill, not Dice-K

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McAdam: Sox will miss Hill, not Dice-K

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

One pitcher grew up half a world away, the other just miles from Fenway Park.

One was the object of an unprecedented bidding war, the other signed for less than double the major-league minimum salary.

One threw a dizzying array of pitches, the other spent the past two seasons experimenting with various arm angles.

One is right-handed, the other lefty.

Yet, for all their differences, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rich Hill are the same in ways they surely don't wish: both seem headed for season-ending -- and potentially career-threatening Tommy John surgery.

Dr. M. explains Tommy John surgery

And here's the irony: despite the fact that the Red Sox paid 103 million for Matsuzaka and just 700,000 for Hill, it's Hill whom they'll miss the most.

Matsuzaka may have attracted the most attention, arriving with great fanfare and a mythical pitch (gyro ball), and he may have won 33 games in his first two seasons with the Sox, 11 more than Hill has over parts of seven big-league seasons.

But in 2011, it was Hill who held much greater value to the Red Sox and whose absence will be far more difficult to replace.

No matter what they had invested in him, financially and otherwise, Matsuzaka remained an enigma, seemingly unable to win with any consistency. Since the start of 2009, in 44 starts -- roughly the equivalent of a season-and-a-third -- Matsuzaka was 16-15 with a 5.03 ERA.

This year, he was as unpredictable as ever. In back-to-back starts in April, he teased the Red Sox with one-hitters. But as dominant as he was in those two outings, his ERA for the season was 5.30 -- about a run higher than the American League average.

Money and reputation aside, Matsuzaka had devloved into a back-of-the-rotation starter -- and not a very durable one at that.

In the eight games that Matsuzaka started for them this season, the Red Sox were 4-4; with others starting, they are at least (nominally) over .500 at 26-22.

And though neither Tim Wakefield nor Alfredo Aceves are necessarily long-term solutions to the Red Sox rotation, they've consistently given the Sox a chance to win games. In seven starts combined, the pair have twice allowed five or more runs; in Matsuzaka's eight starts before his trip to the DL, he also allowed five or more runs twice.

For the time being, the Red Sox plan to use either Wakefield or Aceves in place of Matsuzaka. In time, they could call upon Felix Doubront (fresh off a DL stint of his own at Pawtucket) or perhaps even Kevin Millwood.

But they're not about to venture into the trade market to replace Matsuzaka, thanks to the prohibitive cost of obtaining pitching help and, frankly, because it shouldn't be difficult to match what Matsuzaka was giving them with their many internal candidates.

Hill, however, is another story.

Even after walking off the mound and out of the game Wednesday afternoon following a walk to Adam Dunn, Hill had not given up a run in eight appearances this season. In fact, dating back to his late-season callup last September, Hill was, improbably, unscored upon in his Red Sox career, throwing nothing but blanks over 15 appearances, covering 12 innings.

If quality starting pitching is difficult to find, it's downright bountiful when compared to effective left-handed relievers like Hill.

Consider that the Red Sox had a handful of lefty relievers in camp this spring, including Hill and journeyman Dennys Reyes.

Reyes made the Opening Day roster, then pitched so poorly that the Red Sox found a reason to place him on the DL before they even returned home from their season-opening road trip.

Hill, on the other hand, was showing signs of beginning to master his role. A starter earlier in his career, Hill transitioned to the bullpen after shoulder surgery in 2009.

This year, he held opposing lefty hitters to a single hit in 14 at-bats with seven strikeouts and just two walks. But Hill was also getting righties out, allowing just two hits in 12 at-bats (.167 BAA).

Had Hill remained healthy, he might have resulted in another option for the seventh or eighth innings -- beyond his usual duties as a situational left-hander.

The Sox don't have anyone like him in their system. Even in his first few seasons with the Sox, Hideki Okajima wasn't particularly effective against lefties, and the Sox thought so little of him two weeks ago that they designed him for assignment.

Doubront could conceivably help out in the short-run, but long-term his future is as a starter.

By their own admission, the Sox got lucky with Hill. He chose to opt-out of a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals organization last summer for the chance to pitch for his hometown team. As a free agent, non-tendered by the Sox last winter, he turned down offers from other interested clubs to accept a minor-league, make-good deal with the Sox. And after experimenting with a number of sidearm release points, he found one this spring that worked.

Now, he's gone for the remainder of this season and parts of next. And putting aside his modest salary and the little fanfare he attracted, his loss is far greater to the Red Sox than the internationally known pitcher with whom he's now linked, both felled by the same injury, different as can be but united in their fate.

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

Sandoval 'starting from scratch' after career had 'fallen into an abyss'

Sandoval 'starting from scratch' after career had 'fallen into an abyss'

The Pablo Sandoval redemption tour is underway as the former World Series MVP tries to revive his career after two disastrous seasons with the Red Sox organization.

In an interview with ESPN Deportes, he admits to being “complacent” during his first two seasons in Boston after signing a five-year, $95 million deal. 

"My career had fallen into an abyss because I was so complacent with things that I had already accomplished," Sandoval said. "I did not work hard in order to achieve more and to remain at the level of the player that I am and that I can be."

After dealing Travis Shaw to the Brewers, Sandoval is expected to be the Red Sox primary third baseman in 2017.

"I am not taking anything for granted," he said. "I am here to work hard. I'm not thinking about the position or not. I am starting from scratch, and I am here to show what I can do on the field."

The 30-year-old says he’s following a “really strict routine” this offseason, and it shows. In a recent photo, Sandoval appears noticeably thinner. Sandoval says his wife giving birth to “Baby Panda” has served as inspiration.

"Watching 'Baby Panda' grow up and that he gets the opportunity to see his father play in the majors for seven, eight more years, to get back to the success I had, that's my motivation every day," Sandoval said. "The people that I surround myself with now and my family, they are the key to my success. This has been a life lesson."

Tanguay: Could Red Sox ownership be going for it now, then sell the team?

Tanguay: Could Red Sox ownership be going for it now, then sell the team?

Could John Henry sell ownership of the Boston Red Sox anytime soon, or does he want to keep winning?  Shaughnessy, Merloni, and Tanguay debate.