Red Sox

Hill ready to rejoin Red Sox in improbable return to Majors

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Hill ready to rejoin Red Sox in improbable return to Majors

BOSTON - As recently as two months ago, Rich Hill was trying to stay in shape by throwing with an American Legion team in his native Milton, Mass.

Only a month ago, he was pitching for the Long Island Ducks in an unaffiliated independent league.

And sometime in the next week, Hill will start a game for the Red Sox, constituting his third stint with the franchise.

Improbable? That doesn't begin to cover it.

"I would say it's probably very (improbable),'' Hill admitted with a chuckle. "It was surprising in the beginning, but I guess, not now... It's great. If you keep working, that's really the whole thing.''

Hill is a 10-year veteran of the major leagues, having pitched for six different organizations as both a starter and reliever.

He began the year pitching in the bullpen for Washington's Triple A affiliate in Syracuse before being released.

Following some time at home, he focused on going somewhere where he could resume his role as a starter, something he hadn't done in five years.

"It's been kind of something that I've been thinking about the last couple of years,'' said Hill. "When you have a good thing going as a (lefty) specialist, you stick with that. If it's not broken....you know. That's kind of the approach I was taking out of the bullpen.

"But I've always had the feeling that I wanted to get back into starting. I enjoyed it so much. I enjoy the process, the days in-between working up to the start and being able to use all your pitches and go through a lineup, hopefully, three or four times. To be able to use all your weapons is something that was always exciting to me.''

Long Island gave him that opportunity. He made two starts there, striking out 14 in six innings and catching the eye of several scouts.

His preference was to pitch for the Red Sox again -- something he had done, on and off, from 2010 through 2012 -- and with Pawtucket suddenly short of starters thanks to major league callups (Eduardo Rodriguez, Joe Kelly, Henry Owens) and injuries (Brian Johnson) there was an opening for Hill.

He made five starts at Triple A, and with the Sox looking for someone to act as a sixth starter to ease the workload for Owens and Rodriguez, Hill was in the right spot, right time.

The Sox haven't announced exactly when he'll slot in to the rotation, but it seems assured that when the team starts its upcoming road trip Friday after a day off in the schedule Thursday, Hill will be part of a newly expanded rotation.

"It's been great,'' he said of the experience. "As far as I know, I feel maybe I've been somewhere between 90-94 mph. Overall, it's been (about) command, commanding the ball down in the zone and being able to throw all four pitches for strikes. That's been the big thing to me.''

Hill has had his share of injuries. He had major shoulder in 2008 while pitching for the Cubs and and Tommy John surgery several years later with the Red Sox.

Healthy again, he's regained velocity and gone back to his original delivery after experimenting with a sidearm delivery while pitching in relief.

"I'm more of a conventional, over-the-top slot (pitcher),'' said Hill. "It just feels comfortable, working over the rubber, finishing out in front. Things that I can feel. I'm gathering myself and exploding out front and really feel like I'm behind the ball.

"This was my opportunity (to start again so I said to myself) 'Go ahead and take it.' It's pretty neat.''

Drellich: Red Sox identity, standing as league's best will be tested

Drellich: Red Sox identity, standing as league's best will be tested

The greatest question the Red Sox face entering the second half of the season — well, final two-fifths, really — whether they’re good enough to avoid a Wild Card game. Whether they hold on to the American League East and keep the Yankees at bay. 

How many wins the Sox (68-30) wind up with does not matter outside of that context. A 105-win season would look plenty disappointing if it gives way to a loss in the only playoff game the Sox play in 2018.

Lurking in the background is more of a question of context and remembrance. Will these Sox eventually be recalled for something other than being outrageously good? 

They do not need to be, mind you. No team needs to do anything besides win (and act responsibly and benevolently as citizens, you could also say). This is the best team in baseball, with 64 games left on its schedule. They arrive, they rake and shove, they do it again the next day. It's 2007 all over again.

“It’s a very weird feeling in the clubhouse,” J.D. Martinez said in Washington D.C., during the All-Star Game festivities. “From the moment I got into spring training, it’s like everyone goes out there and whether we’re losing by a lot or we’re winning by a lot, the mood is always the same. There’s never any panic. 

"There’s no really like highs and lows it seems like in the clubhouse. It’s just everything is kind of like, even-keeled. So to me it’s like, it’s almost like that’s who we are: we’re playing like how we’re supposed to be playing."

The Sox are not underdogs with the highest payroll in baseball. They’re not all bearded. There are no reports of Jack Daniels shots prior to games. There’s certainly no curse to be broken, or any other broad backdrop, aside from the desire to avenge early exits in 2016 and 2017.

None of those threads are necessary for enjoyment, although they can act as an enhancement. Perhaps there’s a blue-collar narrative to be found here, if you can ignore the highest payroll in baseball. 

“Ah man, I don’t know,” Martinez said when asked about identity. “I feel like this is a very close group. It almost feels like a family. Everyone’s rooting for each other. I don’t know if I can put a label on it, it’s just, everyone always wants to grow and get better. Everyone’s always asking questions, and continuing to just not be satisfied I feel like in their own. They always want to get better. It’s been fun.”

The questions for Martinez and Mookie Betts didn’t stop at the All-Star Game, either. Both players will be high vote-getters in the American League MVP race, and Betts may well win. The duo, led by Martinez’s methods as well as hitting coach Tim Hyers, seems to have figured something out, a hitting approach that maximizes their off-the-chart talents.

“There’s a lot of hitting talk, but it’s not necessarily, ‘How do you do it?’” Betts said when asked if All-Stars were trying to understand what he and Martinez have been doing. “It’s the approaches and what not that you use. Just passing along information, that’s how everybody gets better. Everybody wants to get better.”

Hard to imagine the Sox actually getting better, given it would be a shock if they did not win 100 games. The Sox need to play .500 ball the rest of the way to reach that vaunted mark.

Martinez was asked if the Sox have peaked.

“I don’t know, you can always get better, right?” he said. “But we have a good team. I think we’re a very versatile team. I always say this: like, this is a team that can beat you in multiple ways. You can have someone throw a shutout and us put up one run. Or you know, us go out there and put up 10 runs and us win. You know the bullpen comes in, shuts the door. 

“We can steal bases. We can manufacture runs. It’s a team that’s not dependent on winning on one way. I kind of remember when I was in Detroit it was like, we had to slug. That was what we had to do to score. Here, it’s different.”

But, again, being good, or being different, or improving from this point really matters in only one context: the Yankees (62-33). They’re the only other team that can with East. And the prize associated with clinching the division — avoiding a one-game Wild Card berth — is tremendous. 

The Yanks sit 4 1/2 games back, with more games to play than the Sox down the stretch. Whether the Sox win 100 games, 110 games, really doesn’t matter outside of the magic and novelty associated with a big number. 

As of Wednesday, the Red Sox had a 58.1 percent chance to win the division, per Baseball Prospectus’ daily playoff odds. The Yanks were at 41.9 percent. They next meet in the first week of August at Fenway Park.

"We have a long way to go," Betts said. "We have to take these couple days to heal up, rest up and get ready to go."

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Orioles trade Manny Machado to Dodgers for five prospects

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File Photo

Orioles trade Manny Machado to Dodgers for five prospects

The Dodgers are the winners of the Manny Machado sweepstakes, acquiring the ex-Orioles slugger in exchange for five prospects.

The prospects heading to Baltimore in the deal per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic are outfielder Yusniel Diaz, third baseman Rylan Bannon, right-handed pitcher Zach Pop, right-handed pitcher Dean Kremer, and second baseman Breyvic Valera.

Machado, 26,  is enjoying another stellar season, hitting .315 with 24 home runs at the break. The Dodgers fill the void at shortstop left by Corey Seager, who is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May. Machado is set to be a free agent after the season.

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