Athletics

Perseverance pays off for new A's starter Rich Hill

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Perseverance pays off for new A's starter Rich Hill

The A’s are placing their confidence in a journeyman left-hander whose biggest strength is the confidence he’s shown in himself.

Rich Hill had his sights set on another crack as a major league starter, and it was a goal he chased all the way to the independent leagues to make happen.

Hill’s improbable journey culminated Friday in a one-year, $6 million contract from the A’s to join their starting rotation.

[STIGLICH: A's agree to terms with Rich Hill, DFA AJ Griffin]

“It was really a personal journey for myself to get back to doing what I wanted to do, which is be a starting pitcher,” Hill said on a media conference call.

For the A’s, it’s a considerable amount of faith -- not to mention financial resources -- to invest in a pitcher that until September hadn’t made a big league start since 2009.

But A’s officials see a lefty with the ability to retire hitters in a manner that wouldn’t be suggested by his track record. The 35-year-old Hill is 26-23 with a 4.54 ERA in parts of 11 big league seasons, mostly spent as a reliever.

After being released by the Washington Nationals in June, one of nine organizations he’s been with, Hill signed with the Long Island Ducks of the Independent Atlantic League, looking to re-establish himself as a starter, a role he served while breaking into the bigs with the Chicago Cubs.

[STIGLICH: A's agree to one-year deal with LHP Rich Hill]

That led to a minor league contract with the Red Sox. In September, Hill got a cameo stint in Boston’s rotation and turned in a stunning performance. He went 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA in four starts, including a shutout against the Orioles. Hill also became the first American League pitcher in the last 100 years to strike out 10 in each of his first three starts with a team.

“Rich’s story is a good one,” A’s general manager David Forst said. “You have to respect the passion he showed going to independent ball and knowing what he wanted.”

Will it all come together with the A’s?

Two major league scouts asked about Hill were divided – one saying he loved the lefty, the other labeling him “a typical risk/reward guy.”

There’s consensus, however, that the A’s needed starting depth of some kind. Kendall Graveman and Jesse Hahn are coming off season-ending injuries. Jarrod Parker is still an unknown coming off a fractured elbow and two Tommy John surgeries, and Drew Pomeranz –- another starting option -– had minor shoulder surgery in October. Jesse Chavez was traded to Toronto on Friday as part of a busy day of A’s transactions. And A.J. Griffin, yet another pitcher on the mend from injury, was designated for assignment Friday to clear a 40-man roster spot for Hill.

After his release from the Nationals in June, Hill went home to Milton, Mass., and began working out with a local American Legion team. He made a couple important adjustments, setting up on the far right side of the mound and getting back to a more over-the-top delivery.

“I could feel the consistency, the ball coming out of my hand the way I wanted it to,” Hill said. “It continued in independent ball. … The confidence has always been there. The ability has always been there. To me, it was no surprise what happened in September.”

A’s outfielder Sam Fuld, teammates with Hill on the 2007 Cubs, remembers Hill putting together a terrific season that year in Chicago’s rotation. He went 11-8 with a 3.92 ERA in 32 starts that season at age 27.

“I think it’s remarkable how much he’s persevered,” Fuld said. “I know he’s been through ups and downs. … I know he was kind of billed as the future with the Cubs, and things didn’t turn out as I’m sure he hoped. For him to keep fighting and get a nice contract and another opportunity to start in the big leagues is really exciting.”

A's pitcher Mike Fiers reveals Astros would steal signs electronically

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AP

A's pitcher Mike Fiers reveals Astros would steal signs electronically

The AL powerhouse Houston Astros have long been suspected of stealing signs, but new information came to light Tuesday.

In a feature from The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich reported that the Astros used a camera in center field during their 2017 World Series run to help steal signs electronically.

Yankees star Aaron Judge summed up the report succinctly.

A's pitcher Mike Fiers was on that Astros team, and earned a World Series ring of his own. Now with Oakland, he not only confirmed the setup of technology but also commented on how it was affecting the game. 

“I don’t know if we really had any hard proof, but I’m sure there was (some evidence of other teams’ conduct),” Fiers told The Athletic. “Going into the playoffs, we had veterans like Brian McCann -- we went straight to multiple signs (with our pitchers). We weren’t going to mess around. We were sure there were teams out there that were trying certain things to get an edge and win ballgames. I wouldn’t say there was hard evidence. But it’s hard to catch teams at home. There are so many things you can use to win at home.”

Fiers then added how there were some players who didn't like it, as they would prefer not to know what was coming. But clearly, there were guys that benefitted as well.

“I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they’re going in there not knowing,” Fiers said. 

After the story was released, the Astros released the following statement:

A former player told NBC Sports California on Tuesday most teams participate in stealing signs in some fashion, but the Astros flirt with the line of what is legal and what is not.

"The Astros are super talented," the player said. "But ... they will do whatever they need to do to get an edge."

[RELATED: Daniel Hudson potential trade target for A's]

"In my honest opinion, they got beat by their old bench coach Alex Cora," he continued. "He knew all the Astros secrets, weaknesses, everything. Then, this year it seemed like the Astros only hit well when pitchers were tipping pitches. It happened with [Stephen] Strasburg the first two innings of Game 6. He cleaned it up in between innings and Houston couldn't hit him."

"Teams steal signs, it's been happening for years," the former player added. "Astros take it to another level."

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MLB rumors: A's in talks with Stephen Vogt's agent during free agency

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USATSI

MLB rumors: A's in talks with Stephen Vogt's agent during free agency

Stephen Vogt could be staying in the Bay Area after all. But the catcher might choose a reunion over the option to continue wearing a Giants jersey.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser reported Monday morning that the A's have contacted the agent for the free-agent catcher.

Vogt, 35, proved to be fully healthy after what was once seen as potentially career-threatening shoulder surgery. After missing the entire 2018 season, Vogt was one of the Giants' most reliable bats this past season. 

The veteran catcher signed a minor league contract with the Giants in February, and went on to be a steal for San Francisco. He played in 99 games, hitting .263 with 10 homers and 40 RBI as a spot starter and backup to Buster Posey. Vogt also played seven games in left field last season. 

Vogt became somewhat of a cult hero over his four-and-a-half seasons in Oakland. He broke through as a 30-year-old for the A's in 2015 when he made his first of back-to-back All-Star Game appearances. 

The left-handed hitting catcher had a .255 batting average with 49 homers in 458 games with the A's. Even as someone who turned 35 on Nov. 1, he could be the perfect fit for an Oakland reunion. 

Adding Vogt likely would be the end of the Josh Phegley era. The A's have one of the best young catchers in the game in Sean Murphy, and could pair the 25-year-old right-handed hitter with Vogt, a veteran lefty. 

[RELATED: Vogt's championship desires might hinder Giants return in 2020]

Vogt could start games here and there behind the dish, as well as at DH, play left field and even first base, while being an incredibly serviceable bat off the bench. He hit .325 with two homers in 43 games off the bench for the Giants last season.

At this stage of his career, Vogt has one thing on his mind: A World Series ring. The A's could fit his desires while keeping him in the Bay Area on the team that truly gave him his first chance.