Lefty May Have Up-Hill Battle to Make Tribe Opening Day Roster
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the Spring Invitees with a chance to make the Tribe’s Opening Day roster.
By Mike Brandyberry
Left-handed pitching is tough to find and any lefty who has shown promise at the big league level, will receive numerous chances. It may be the only thing keeping Rich Hill at the Major League level.
The Indians signed Hill to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training just last Thursday on Feb. 9. Hill, who will turns 33 on March 11, owns a career Major League record of 23-20 with a 4.60 ERA in 118 games/70 starts with the Chicago Cubs, Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox (427.0IP, 384H, 218ER, 192BB, 391K). In his career he has limited Major League hitters to a .240 (384-1598) average against, including a mark of .209 (74-354) vs. left-handed batters (.665OPS). For his career he has averaged 8.24 strikeouts per 9.0 innings pitched.
Hill was once a young, starting pitcher for the Cubs with a chance to be a constant in their rotation, but shoulder and elbow injuries have sidelined his career. When healthy, Hill has been an effective big league pitcher, but his ability to remain healthy has been his greatest hindrance since 2007 when he was 11-8 in 32 starts with the Cubs.
However, Hill has not made a start since 2009 in Baltimore, instead pitching out of the Boston bullpen for the last three seasons. He was sidelined much of the 2010 and 2011 season and made two trips to the disabled list in 2012 due to the reconstructive left elbow surgery he had the season before.
Around those disabled list trips last season though, Hill was 1-0, with a 1.83 ERA in 19.2 innings and 25 games in the Red Sox bullpen. Hill was injured most of his time in Boston when new Tribe manager Terry Francona was at the helm, but the familiarity with one another probably helped create the opportunity for Hill to join the Indians and try to make the team’s bullpen.
Hill’s chances to make the Tribe may be a little better than first expected, however, because he is left-handed. With Tony Sipp traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks this winter and Rafael Perez non-tendered a contract, the left side of the Indians’ bullpen consists of unproven candidates Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes and David Huff. Each have had Major League chances, but squandered opportunities.
Therefore, if Hill can remain healthy through Spring Training, the door is rather open for a pitcher who could not find a job into February. Considering Hill’s injury history, he would best be used as a late-inning, left-handed only specialist—othewise known as a LOOGY.
While the Tribe’s weakness on the left-side of the bullpen could be Hill’s greatest strength, he still is looking at an upward climb to make the 25-man roster. If Hill did make the team, a player from the 40-man roster would have to be designated for assignment to create a roster spot for him. That might be a risk not worth taking—leaving another player open to be claimed by any team—to add Hill and his lengthy injury history.
For Hill, his chance to make the Opening Day roster may be a tough battle, but his chance with Francona and the shaky southpaw side may be the best chance he has left.