SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Halfway through his slate of spring training starts, A’s left-hander Rich Hill is struggling to find his comfort zone.
The latest example came Tuesday at Salt River Fields, when Hill walked six and surrendered five runs in a 6-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies. Signed in the offseason to slot in behind Sonny Gray and provide some veteran stability, Hill said he’s trying to work his way through mechanical issues that’s led to 12 walks in 7 2/3 innings spread over three Cactus League starts. He’s carrying a 15.26 ERA.
“(Mechanics) and release point are two things I’m really working on right now,” the 36-year-old veteran said. “I don’t like using the term ‘Well, it is spring training,’ because you want to start seeing results, start building momentum into the season. There are some good things going on, and some things that need to be worked on.”
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At the heart of the issue, Hill is having trouble finding the right release point in his delivery. That’s causing his bread-and-butter curve ball to betray him at times. Hill’s defense bailed him out in a couple of innings, preventing even more potential scoreboard damage. But the bottom of the third epitomized his frustrations.
After issuing back-to-back walks on eight pitches to start the inning, Hill struck out No. 3 hitter Carlos Gonzalez and got Nolan Arenado to pop up. But when he tried to go away with a first-pitch fastball to Mark Reynolds, the pitch instead leaked over the plate, and Reynolds mashed a three-run homer to put the A’s in a 5-0 hole.
“He’s just out of rhythm,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It looks like he’s out ahead of his arm a little bit on his breaking ball. That’s why they’re staying up. He’s just searching for the right arm slot. At times he has it, he’s just not consistent with it right now.”
Hill has just four major league starts under his belt since 2009, but the A’s are banking on him producing in the rotation after he’s pitched out of the bullpen the past several seasons. Asked if there’s concern at this point, Melvin instead said the main emotion is probably frustration being felt on Hill’s part.
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Based on the current rotation, he would have three spring starts left. His next outing will be a minor league game, a move Melvin said was previously planned. Hill’s next big league turn would be against the Chicago White Sox, who happen to be his first regular-season opponent, and the A’s don’t want to hand out any scouting reports.
The A’s gave Hill a one-year $6 million contract. Expect them to give him ample opportunity to iron out the kinks.
“I think it’s just something where once you get good momentum, good rhythm, timing, tempo … all those things start falling into place,” Hill said, “and usually you start getting in sync and things start rolling.”