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by Derek Smart
I've never been much of a fan of Rich Hill. In his previous stints with the big club there was always something about the way he threw that didn't look like Major League material. The lack of control he displayed early on coupled with a pretty darn straight fastball always seemed like a ticket to quadruple-A to me. Well, it may not be a huge sample size, but Mr. Hill's doing his damnedest to make my previous predictions of ultimate failure look like so much pissing in the wind (I only wish I was better at extrapolating these sort of life lessons from the work of Jim Croce. It'd save me a ton on dry-cleaning).
Beginning with his two-inning stint out of the bullpen against the Astros on August 15th, he's thrown 30.1 innings while giving up only 19 hits, 9 runs (5 earned), striking out 28, and most important of all, only walking six men. For those of you who don't like math, that's a 4.67 K/BB ratio, which would tie him for third in the Majors among qualifiers for the ERA title with Mike Mussina, and behind Johan Santana and Curt Schilling, which if you ask me, is pretty decent company.
I don't know that he can keep that up, but what seemed like such an obstacle before - his lack of command and his very predictable pitch selection - has transformed from a weakness to a strength. Not only is Hill spotting the ball extremely well, he's doing an excellent job of mixing his pitches - not the least of which is a pretty acceptable changeup - and thus keeping the opposition off balance. That several of Hill's 11 K's last night found the batter looking at a fastball for the final strike serves to illustrate the point.
Here's the thing to bear in mind, though: not only is this a small sample size, but you have to believe that with the adjustments that Hill has made, at least some of the good in what's happening right now has to do with outdated scouting reports. That said, last night should still be very encouraging, because even knowing that Hill's newfound ability to throw something other than his curve with two strikes may not have been incorporated into every potential opponent's preparation, the Bucs had seen Hill exactly one month previous and suffered an eerily similar fate.
The implication is that Hill is making adjustments from start to start, and not just hard-coding a new approach until he gets figured out. If this is really what we're seeing, if Hill has discovered how to adjust on the fly, has, in essence, unearthed the secret to pitching rather than throwing - if, indeed, he's "getting it" - then something good may yet come out of this season's orgy of failure.