FORT MYERS —– If anything, Rich Hill told Tampa Bay media Friday, “you guys will find out that I’m really honest about outings.”
The veteran lefty was just that after a rough spring debut with his new team.
Hill threw 27 pitches to six Red Sox batters and got none out — though leftfielder Moises Gomez failed him twice on what appeared to be routine fly balls — in the Rays’ 6-5 walkoff loss.
“So, that sucked,” Hill said. “That’s one thing, that I hold myself to a higher standard. And obviously, I get it, it’s spring training, we can say all these things and blah, blah, blah, but (you) want to get out there and get off (well).”
Hill didn’t on Friday. His curveball was up, as was most everything else he tried. He said it’s “a simple fix,” and facing more hitters will help.
The good news was that Hill said he felt “great physically,” which was important since he is coming off a season in which which he spent three weeks on the injured list due to shoulder inflammation — and that after October 2019 elbow surgery.
Hill, who turns 41 next week, has been around long enough — he’s starting his 17th season in the majors and 20th in pro ball — to know how little the first outing of the spring matters.
But he is also proud enough to admit that it stung a bit, allowing four runs (three earned) on three hits and two walks, the other batter reaching on an error.
“I think absolutely it should (bother him),” Hill said. “I’ve had spring trainings in the past that have been terrible and had great seasons. And I’ve had great spring trainings and had okay seasons. So, yes, that’s something that for me every time that I have an outing like that it is frustrating.”
That candor and perspective is one of the reasons the Rays reached out to sign Hill to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. To not only take Charlie Morton’s place throwing strikes from the mound but also tossing out advice and wisdom in the clubhouse.
“These last couple of weeks have been fantastic getting to know the guys and really just being able to connect with them,” Hill said. “I’m open to really anyone coming and asking for advice, asking some questions about whatever it might be — the physical side, the pitching side or the mental side of the game.
“All these different areas, everybody is going through different points of their career, and understanding that from my perspective as a player and being able to translate my experiences to some of the guys has been great.”
Accountability — even after a rough spring outing — is something else Hill brings, said Rays manager Kevin Cash, who played with Hill in Boston and was his bullpen coach for a year in Cleveland.
“He’s always been like that,” Cash said. “(He was) somewhat making light of it in the dugout. We’re all competitors. He wants to perform at his best. But he also has a big enough track record and enough success and probably some trying times in the game to appreciate, like, ‘Hey, it happens sometimes.’ And I think that’s what we chalk it up to.”
Hill also comes with an edge. Cash spoke with reverence, and some caution, about how competitive Hill is on his start days. “He’s really awesome (for) four days around him,” Cash said. “That fifth day, you probably want to stay away from him. When he gets out on the mound, he turns into a different guy. But whatever makes him comfortable, we will adapt to.”
Hill is okay with the comparisons to Morton, who had a similar career arc in that he struggled early and dealt with injuries before finding success.
“I’ve heard nothing but great things about Charlie,” Hill said. “I know he left a huge impression here with this organization and many other places that he’s been. I think that just speaks to, obviously, his character, work ethic, and his ability to be consistent on a daily basis. And that’s something that hopefully I’m providing here with these guys.”
But Hill knows that only goes so far.
“The other side of it is going out there and performing,” he said. “That should be the main focus for me right now as far as camp is concerned. Get right and make sure the ball is coming out the way that I want.”