Hill making impact as defensive specialist

September 20th, 2020

DETROIT -- Ron Gardenhire spent all Summer Camp watching make highlight catches in center field at Comerica Park. Still, even the Tigers manager was surprised by the catch the former first-round Draft pick made in Friday’s 1-0 loss to Cleveland.

“That one I would like to see some data on, how far he ran for that ball,” Gardenhire said.

The details from Statcast were impressive. Hill was shaded slightly to right-center field on slugger Franmil Reyes, who crushed a Buck Farmer pitch in the eighth and sent it just shy of the warning track in left-center field. Hill, inserted at the start of the inning, covered 111 feet to make the catch on the run, and in stride.

Statcast rated it as a three-star play with a 60 percent catch probability.

“He ran a long ways, and he made it look easier than that catch was,” Gardenhire said. “He can fly, and he can get some jumps on balls, and he’s an above-average defender.”

This is what Hill brings to the Tigers this season. He’s essentially a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-runner who has had seven at-bats in 11 games since his callup from the alternate training site in Toledo, Ohio, little more than two weeks ago. He entered Friday’s game with Detroit down a run to replace Harold Castro, who started in right field and went seven innings in his first game back from a left hamstring injury.

“He’s only played three or four innings at a time in the outfield, and this was the seventh inning,” Gardenhire said. “When we saw what was coming up, we said right away, ‘If he hits, he gets on, [Hill’s] going to run for him.’ And whether he does or not, we’re going to put [Hill] out in center and move [Victor] Reyes over, because that’s the longest stint he’s had out there in a long time with this hamstring thing.”

Though Hill entered in the eighth inning, he did not get an at-bat when his spot came up in the ninth. Daz Cameron pinch-hit for him and drove a triple to center to put the potential tying run in position with one out.

“He had a better chance than Hill right now,” Gardenhire said after the game. “He’s had a few more at-bats than Hill. We thought that he was the right guy to do it. Nothing against Hill, but he just hasn’t had many at-bats.”

Expect that trend to continue while the Tigers are still mathematically alive in the American League playoff race. Gardenhire said he’ll put out the best possible lineup to try to make a run for the eighth and final Wild Card spot, with youngsters like Hill and Sergio Alcántara taking bench or platoon spots. If and when Detroit is eliminated, Hill could get some starts in the final games. If the club has to make up its doubleheader against the Cardinals on Sept. 28, Gardenhire could use all the young players for at least one game.

Hill is hitless so far, but he drew an eight-pitch walk off Cleveland ace and AL Cy Young Award favorite Shane Bieber on Thursday night, fouling off back-to-back 3-2 pitches to keep the eighth inning alive for Willi Castro’s three-run home run.

Romine OK after left wrist contusion
Though catcher was out of Saturday’s lineup after leaving Friday’s game with a left wrist contusion, the news was still pretty good. X-rays and other tests indicated no structural damage after Romine took a 98 mph sinker from Gregory Soto off the dirt.

“He's sore, but he says he's available,” Gardenhire said. “If we need him, he says he can go out there and play. He's sore for sure; he took a whack. But all the X-rays were good. If I can give him a day, he'll take it.”