In predictable fashion, A’s left-hander Rich Hill was all too ready to pass the credit to others Tuesday night.
More than once in his postgame media session, he mentioned the pitch-calling of catcher Stephen Vogt as a key in Oakland’s 5-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers.
That’s consistent with Hill’s humble nature. He’s always looking to re-direct the praise elsewhere. But despite his best efforts, the way Hill has pitched in two starts on this road trip against two tough lineups commands the spotlight.
He was terrific over seven innings at Comerica Park, striking out eight, walking none and limiting the Tigers to just four hits. That comes on the heels of him striking out 10 in Thursday’s win that clinched a series sweep at Yankee Stadium.
“He’s really unpredictable in what he’s throwing, and sometimes even pitches he throws back-to-back are a little different in how they move,” A’s manager Bob Melvin told reporters after Tuesday’s win. “I thought it was his best fastball we’ve seen, but it’s his breaking ball that keeps everyone off-balance. And just when you start to think about sitting on the breaking ball, he can get a fastball in there.”
Hill allowed two singles in the first inning but struck out the side. That included a fastball that got Miguel Cabrera swinging and a curve that caught J.D. Martinez looking. He made it all look rather effortless.
And that’s something to consider, because all you have to do is think back to spring training, and how nothing really came easy for Hill as he attempted to settle in with his new team. He had trouble commanding any of his pitches, even in one minor league game, and he was putting in extra work between starts to iron out some mechanical issues.
Then there was the erratic Opening Night start (which to his defense came on short notice), when Hill lasted just 2 2/3 innings in his A’s debut. But he’s rounded into form. Through five starts, Hill (3-2) has posted a 2.42 ERA and ranks third in the American League with 37 strikeouts, averaging 12.81 per nine innings. What impressed most Tuesday was the zero in the walk column. Being more economical with his pitches allowed Hill to work a season-high seven innings.
“It’s getting ahead, staying ahead,” Hill said. “Keeping the ball down in the zone, being able to throw the fastball for strikes, mixing in the curve ball and changeup and slider at the right time. That’s a lot of credit to what Steve (Vogt) has been able to do because his perspective is different from what I see.”
The storyline when the A’s signed Hill to a one-year $6 million deal in November was whether they were going out on a limb considering he’d only made four starts in the majors since 2009. Granted, those starts were spectacular as he posted a 1.55 ERA and one shutout for the Boston Red Sox last September. But it was still an extremely small sample size.
Through five starts, the 36-year-old Hill is proving his signing to perhaps be a very wise investment.
“I think this was similar to the outings he had toward the end of last year,” Melvin said.
Keeping an eye on another potential impact addition to the A’s rotation, right-hander Henderson Alvarez went two innings and gave up one unearned run in a rehab start for Triple-A Nashville on Monday against New Orleans. He threw 40 pitches, and Melvin told reporters that Alvarez hit 94 miles per hour with his fastball.