PAWTUCKET – As a 34-year-old with 181 games of pitching experience at the major-league level under his belt, Rich Hill is well aware there’s a whole other realm to keep in mind while recording outs on the mound.
“I think over the course of your career, wherever you are, this is a business first and foremost. When I was younger, that was something I didn’t read too much into,” Hill said while standing in front of his PawSox locker earlier this week. “Now that I have a good amount of time in the big leagues and in professional baseball, you see your side as a player and from the end of baseball operations. That’s totally understandable.”
Hill’s complete knowledge of the bigger picture comes at a time when the lefty reliever has a contractual opt-out clause that’s due to pop sooner rather than later. He’s unsure of the exact date – “either June 15 or June 30” – though the fact Hill has options on the table figures to make the coming weeks interesting.
A native of Milton, Mass., Hill actually had an opt-out provision on May 15. This season marks his second stint with the Red Sox after pitching for his hometown club during parts of three consecutive seasons (2010-12).
He signed a minor-league deal with Boston in February following a 2013 season in which he went to spring training with Cleveland as a non-roster invitee, then went on to post a 6.28 ERA in 63 games for the Indians.
“That wasn’t a lateral out for the big leagues, which is one of the reasons for not leaving,” he explained about the May 15 opt-out, one that came and went with little fanfare. “Hopefully, the opportunity will show itself here. Obviously, I would love to stay and pitch in Boston, but if that doesn’t happen, there’s no 100 percent bias to go elsewhere.
“It’s your career, and – ultimately – you want what is best for yourself and obviously for everyone else. At the same time, you have to look out for yourself.”
Without specifically referencing the terrible tragedy of having his infant son, Brooks, pass away shortly after his birth the day after last Christmas, Hill noted this marks the first time in his career that he has in-season contingency plans to carefully weigh.
“It wasn’t baseball-oriented so to speak,” said Hill about why he elected to sign on with Boston. “I’m fortunate enough to be from the area where there’s a major-league team and also a Triple-A team in your backyard. That goes without saying given the circumstances unrelated to baseball. Obviously, when you have other things going on, it just trumps your career and work.”
For a pitcher of Hill’s veteran pedigree – he’s appeared in the majors in each of the last nine seasons – the ability to negotiate his immediate future with Boston places him in a position of strength. Here is someone who, entering Friday’s action, has been asked to record three or more outs on 13 occasions. Hill has appeared in 17 games for Pawtucket, hence the belief that there would be plenty of suitors for a southpaw who doesn’t fall in the situational category.
Going a step further, Hill has held right-handed hitters to a paltry .194 batting average. Surprisingly, lefties have fared better, though not by much (.212). With fellow southpaw reliever Drake Britton on Pawtucket’s disabled list with left-elbow inflammation, Hill and Tommy Layne represent at the moment the only lefty bullpen options at manager Kevin Boles’ disposal.
“As a reliever, your job is come out of the bullpen and get outs. If it’s one guy, it’s one guy. If it’s two innings or whatever it might be, I’m there to serve and do what’s asked of me until they take the ball out of my hand,” said Hill, whose first save of the season came this past week in the only game the PawSox took in the four home contests against Gwinnett.
It goes without saying that Hill has his eyes fixed on returning to the top of the pro baseball landscape. Whether that takes place with Boston or someplace else, that remains to be seen.
“(Boston) is a big market, but regardless, if other markets are big or small, it’s still the big leagues. That’s where everyone wants to be,” Hill said. “If things happen to work out, they work out.”
Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur admitted that it was a “tough call” in reference to selecting someone from the pool of Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo to fill Boston’s need for a starter on Saturday night. Ultimately, the Red Sox selected De La Rosa, who will make his first-ever start for the parent club.
“It’s a tough choice, but it’s a good problem to have. I think if you took any one of them, you were picking well,” Sauveur said. “The guys down here, they know they’re fighting for their jobs because this is their career.”
Sauveur noted that the process of filling the spot in Boston’s rotation, one that was created as a result of Clay Buchholz landing on the disabled list, is one where input from multiple voices is heard and given.
“You need to realize that this is the Boston Red Sox, not some college game or high-school game when you’re bringing up some kid from junior varsity,” he explained. “This is Major League Baseball, and there are a lot of people involved in making the decision. I know they asked my opinion, but it comes down to everyone on top and what they want to do. (De La Rosa) was their choice, and I think it’s a good choice.”
Sauveur noted that the conversations he has with Ranaudo and Webster will center on why De La Rosa was selected, not why they were bypassed in favor of someone else.
“I’ve seen all these guys grow in front of me and mature. I think (Ranaudo and Webster) are going to handle it well,” Sauveur said.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03