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Rich Hill feeling better than ever after Tommy John surgery

02.22.12 at 10:44 am ET

FORT MYERS, Fla. — When he underwent Tommy John surgery last June, Rich Hill knew that there was a long rehab road ahead of him. Players often need a full year or more to be back in position to pitch in games.

But the left-hander, who made nine scoreless appearances for the Sox last season before blowing out, is already pushing the timetable of his return. The 31-year-old used the period of his recovery from surgery to improve his overall strength and conditioning, to the point where he has thrown impressive bullpen sessions in which his mechanics have been close to what they were prior to his injury and surgery.

“You can see it,” Hill, less than nine months after the surgery, said of his progress. “It’€™s the first time I’€™ve been through anything like this, this major of a surgery. I haven’€™t felt as good as I feel now probably since the beginning of my career, because of the rehab. The shoulder is fully rehabbed. The elbow now has obviously been fixed. When you have that combination of the rehab process with the lifting and the strengthening that goes on, I took advantage of it. I made the most of it. I’€™ve worked. It’€™s made a big difference. … Over the course of the offseason, there’€™s been a lot of work that’€™s been put in. It’€™s paying off.”

That is true in more ways than one. Hill signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox in December that included a $725,000 salary if he made the big league roster as well as the possibility of an opt-out in the first week of March if he was not added to the roster. On Tuesday, roughly seven to 10 days before the left-hander would have had the opportunity to declare free agency if not on the roster, the Sox went ahead and added him to the 40-man roster.

For Hill, that decision offered further validation for his rehab efforts, while also removing the pressure of any timetables for his return.

“From my point of view, [the message] is, ‘€˜We see what you’€™re doing. We see the progress that’€™s made. We know it’€™s coming along very well and it’€™s going to be there,’€™” said Hill. “It puts a little bit of ease to go out there and not buck the process of rehab, not go too fast. End of spring, all of a sudden you’€™re trying to get into a game and do too much.”

That is no longer a concern. Hill and the Sox agree that the expected progression will have him building up towards games after spring training, likely by some point in April.

“Spring training is March, game-wise. Mine will be April. So it’€™s like I’€™m a month behind game-wise. Maybe May 1, I’€™ll be ready to go. It’€™s just one of those things,” said Hill. “Everybody heals differently. Everybody has a different progression. I don’€™t think this is necessarily any faster than normal, but I just feel good on that day. When I throw my bullpens, I’€™m not going 100 percent. That’€™s just the way the ball is coming out. I don’€™t know how else to describe it.

“This is something that you go through, hopefully never in your career, but maybe just once in your career. The process of getting here, finding out, OK, in the beginning, it was, ‘€˜How is it going to feel tomorrow? How is it going to feel the day after?’€™ That’€™s over with. It feels great. The ball’€™s coming out great from my hand. I’€™ve been pleased with all the results. It’€™s been very good.”

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