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While recovering from Tommy John surgery, Rich Hill awaits word on his Red Sox future

12.12.11 at 12:34 pm ET
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Rich Hill

Red Sox left-hander Rich Hill, whose promising season came to a sudden end when he suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament that required Tommy John surgery in early June, said that he is waiting to hear from the team as to whether he will be kept on the 40-man roster or non-tendered by midnight tonight.

Hill appeared in nine scoreless games for the Sox after a May callup, extending his streak of scoreless appearances with Boston to 15, the most consecutive scoreless outings to start a Red Sox career. However, on June 1, he left his outing against the White Sox while shaking his elbow, an indicator of the tear in his Tommy John ligament and a harbinger of his surgery.

Now more than six months into his rehab, Hill — who had been emerging as the team’s top left-hander out of the bullpen at the time of his injury — said that he feels great and even suggested that being ready for the start of the season was at least a possibility.

“I’m trying to get as strong as I can for the start of the season. It wouldn’t surprise me if I was ready by April 5. However, I’m not 100 percent sure how the rest of the program will go,” said Hill, who lives in South Boston and has been working out in Woburn and at Fenway with Sox trainer Mike Reinold. “Health-wise, I couldn’t feel any better. I’m out to 120 feet, throwing the ball on a line.

“The elbow feels great. Everyday that I’ve gone out and thrown, it feels like it continuously gets stronger and stronger. I don’t know how much further I can gauge it and feel any better than I feel right now.”

Hill said that he is leaving his rehab in the hands of Reinold, who formerly worked with Dr. James Andrews at the American Sports Medicine Institute.

“However,” he added, “if you feel like the cart can go a little bit faster, you push it. But you don’t want to do that to the point where you have setbacks. You kind of gauge how you feel. I haven’t needed a day. I haven’t had to pull back at any time because there’s been soreness.”

Given the state of his recovery and his promising transformation last season into a sidearming left-hander (a new arm slot to which Hill committed fully last offseason) who could be a strong left-on-left option (lefties were 2-for-14 with seven strikeouts and two walks against Hill last year), Hill remains hopeful that he will receive a major league contract.

He is hopeful that opportunity will come with the Red Sox, who have until midnight to decide whether to tender Hill (who is arbitration eligible after making a prorated $580,000 last year) a major league contract or to non-tender him and make him a free agent. As of now, Hill said, no final decision has been made to the best of his knowledge.

“I talked to [Red Sox GM Ben Cherington] yesterday at length and also about a month ago,” said Hill. “It seems there may be a small chance that I get a contract to be on the roster. But in my opinion, I’ll come back and be a guy who’s a premier left-handed pitcher out of the bullpen in the big leagues.

“The business side is not for me to determine or decide,” added Hill. “What I can do is go about my business and the way I rehab professionally. The way I’ve been going about it has been proven to have a nice progression in this rehab process, where I’m going to be back and just as good and I feel better than I was last year with a new ligament in there. You’re completely fixed. There’s no issues in there. It’s been proven over time that multiple pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery have come back better than they did before they had it.”

For any number of reasons, Hill is hoping that the Red Sox retain him. He is able to live at home in South Boston and bike to work at Fenway. He has a two-month-old son and so the idea of staying in the region where he grew up, close to his family, has undeniable appeal. While there has been turnover in the Sox’ coaching and medical staff, a number of familiar faces (including Reinold) remain in place, giving him an organizational comfort level should he stay with the Sox.

Even so, Hill is aware that he could be on the free-agent market by the end of the day, in which case he would have to consider the possibility of leaving the Sox.

“If a [major league contract with the Sox] happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, then I have to look other places,” said Hill. “With that said, obviously, I would like to stay here in Boston, but if there is a major league contract out there for myself, that’s the direction I would go. It’s like someone saying, do you want to play in the big leagues or the minor leagues? Everyone is going to take the big leagues every time.”

Hill has dealt with a number of injuries and challenges in his career. Once a very promising starter with the Cubs, injuries and command woes starting in 2008 nearly derailed him. He has undergone shoulder and now elbow surgery, as well as dealing with back issues.

Yet while frustration might be natural, the left-hander suggests that he now sees his career as being ready to get back on track. In his time on the Sox roster last year (and also while in Triple-A Pawtucket), he was, at times, dominant, something that has him eager for what lies ahead.

“There are no sure things in baseball. But given all the factors that are controllable by the player as far as routine, work ethic and relentlessness on the mound, doing the best you can, with a passion about playing baseball, it’s something you can see when you look at what I’m doing,” said Hill. “That’s how I feel about pitching and coming out of the bullpen. I know what I want to do for the rest of my career as a pitcher. That’s pitch out of the bullpen and go out there with conviction every single time.”

It remains to be seen whether that is with the Red Sox or not. Certainly, Hill hopes he remains in Boston (“No better place to play,” he said). That said, if he is non-tendered, then Hill suggested that he would have to explore where he can best position himself to continue to advance his career.

“There would be a fit [with the Sox]. [Cherington] and I talked about this,” Hill said of whether he would be open to a minor-league deal with the Sox. “Still, there is a disappointment by not being tendered. But I understand the position of being in their shoes, the business side, of not being tendered. On my side, it’s frustrating because you work and work and work.

“[But] I know that signing here or anywhere, wherever I end up, I will be back and pitching as a premier left-hander out of the bullpen.”

Read More: Hot Stove 2011, rich hill,
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