MESA, Ariz. -- I went down to Fitch Park to watch Oakland Athletics rotation member Rich Hill pitch in a minor league game on and spoke to him during the clubhouse beat writer session. While his line -- 4.2 IP (the fifth inning was ended after Hill's third batter), 0 R, 1 H, 5 K, 3 BB, 3 HB -- shows he had some wildness, there were far more moments where he appeared to be demonstrating impressive control of the strike zone, and he says he was able to make adjustments to correct any issues as they came up.
Hill threw 87 pitches, and he says he maintained his velocity at 90-93 MPH. I'm fairly sure I overheard an A's coach say Hill hit 94 on the gun in the first inning.
I'll take you inning-by-inning from my notes through the fifth inning, which was ended early (common for minor league games) I assume to allow pitching coach Curt Young, who was watching from behind the plate, to return to HoHoKam Stadium in time for today's major league game.
1st: strikeout looking (1), strikeout looking (2), ground ball single, walk (1) (3-2 pitch), grounder to SS
I actually recorded this first inning on Periscope, and you can view it until Monday at the hyperlinked text (I'm working on a permanent solution to this). Both batters who struck out were frozen by Hill's curveball, and Hill just missed strike three on another curve ball against one of the other batters, missing too low.
2nd: Fly to right, strikeout (3), strikeout (4)
I wrote down "Lost control of one," on the first strikeout of the inning, a harbinger of the occasional mistakes.
3rd: Hit batter (1), walk (2), fly to RF, strikeout looking (5), lineout to RF
On Hill's first hit batter, he threw the first pitch pretty far inside to the right-handed batter, and on the next pitch he hit him with a fastball. I'm not sure why I didn't take notes on his second walk, but I think it was on four or five pitches. On the strikeout, his fastball command came back as he froze a left-handed batter on the outside corner.
4th: Hit batter (2), pop up to 3B, walk (3), fly to LF, lineout to SS
The second batter Hill hit also was to a right-handed batter, also on a fastball. "I just got a little bit upright," Hill says, "Just pulled fastballs, that was it."
I took note of Hill hitting a great spot on his curveball, one that caused the left-handed batter to duck out of the way before hearing the umpire call strike two. He had two or three of those breaking balls today, where the batter sees his life flash before his eyes just before it breaks into the zone.
Hill ended the inning with a broken bat lineout to short.
5th: Grounder to SS, grounder to 2B, hit batter (3), [inning ended]
Against the second batter, Hill dropped in two curve balls to the perfect spots at the bottom of the zone, one of each on the inside and outside corners. Then he lost the handle on his last curveball, pegging the left-handed batter between the numbers. "I tried to drop down and it kind of came straight out of my hand instead of any kind of release out front with good action," Hill says. "But that last inning was very good, it was effective. It was a good note to end on."
And you know, Hill did keep coming back from those mistakes with really well-located fastballs and curveballs. "You miss on a pitch you come back with a good pitch," Hill says, "It's a little bit of a battle within yourself with mechanics. So that's getting into a little bit more of that comfort zone.
Hill mentioned he specifically was working on "staying over the rubber, working over my feet and staying closed a lot longer instead of being more upright and coming off of pitches so the direction was better, that was the biggest thing. So the direction towards the plate was much better. A few times I did pull off of some pitches, made the adjustment, came back."
I'll be interested to see him in action again against major leaguers and see if these adjustments pay off. From my vantage point, today seemed like a good day for him, and regardless of how you feel about that pitching line it sounds like Rich Hill knows what he needs to do to get back on track before opening day.