Hill dazzles, latest to impress in Twins debut

July 30th, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- Make it 3-for-3 on impressive Twins pitching debuts in 2020. Rich Hill’s was the best of them all.

The Twins were willing to wait half a season for Hill to take the mound when they signed him to a one-year deal during the offseason as he recovered from left elbow surgery. Even when baseball resumed, they had to wait a few extra days after Hill experienced some minor inflammation in his left shoulder that scratched him from his planned start this past Saturday.

It was a long road back, but this is why the Twins were willing to wait all that time: five scoreless innings of two-hit ball that provided a big first impression by the wily veteran left-hander, as he baffled Cardinals hitters with only his fastball and curveball in a 3-0 win on Wednesday night at Target Field, helping Minnesota complete a two-game sweep.

“Obviously, I was preparing for this, and it felt great to be back out there,” Hill said. “It felt great to be back out, and a tip of the hat to Dr. Jeffrey Dugas in Birmingham, [Ala.], and the work he did to do the primary repair. To have it come out the way it has has been unbelievable. I've had zero issues with my elbow since the surgery. It has been pretty incredible.”

The Twins’ offense didn’t provide its customary fireworks, but that was fine on a night in which Hill and four relievers combined to allow one hit beyond the second inning, showing off the depth of a fortified relief corps that might be flying under the radar amid all this talk of "bombas." Tyler Duffey, Sergio Romo, Tyler Clippard and Taylor Rogers combined for seven strikeouts and no walks over four innings.

An Eddie Rosario solo homer and a pair of two-out RBI hits from Nelson Cruz and Alex Avila were all Minnesota needed to make that pitching performance stand.

“They know we’re not going to come out and put up five or 10 runs every single game,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That’s not how it works, especially when you play good teams. You can’t be thinking like that. You think you’ll do whatever you have to do to win. And you’re going to have to change the way you play and win some different kinds of ballgames.”

While Hill was at home after Spring Training was suspended, he threw at a net in a field by himself much of the time. He didn’t even throw to a catcher -- his soon-to-be brother-in-law -- until his final two sessions.

Apparently, it wasn’t a big adjustment to regain his dominant form against hitters.

Hill allowed a two-out single in the first inning to Paul Goldschmidt and a one-out single to Yadier Molina an inning later. That was about it for the Cardinals’ offense, as Hill retired 11 of the final 12 hitters he faced to complete his 68-pitch outing. The 40-year-old averaged 88.1 mph on a fastball that never touched 90, per Statcast, and his curveball dipped as low as 66.2 mph. He had only two strikeouts.

Still, with a perfectly even mix of fastballs and curveballs, Hill got the job done, much like he has the previous four seasons, when he posted a 3.00 ERA over 83 games with the A’s and Dodgers.

“His stuff is pretty incredible,” Baldelli said. “He’s got the fastball that he can ride and do different things with it. Then, he’s got that curveball that he uses basically whenever he wants and however he wants. It’s really fun to watch him do it. He even showed us the subtraction with the kind of eephus ball that he threw up there in one of his at-bats. It was really cool to see, and exactly what we were all hoping for.”

Consider this a strong first turn through the new-look Minnesota rotation, which might have been the weakest part of the club in its run to the American League Division Series last year. Hill joined Kenta Maeda and Homer Bailey (both of whom allowed two runs in five innings in their Twins debuts) in fortifying the back end of the staff with a reliable veteran presence that could do a lot for the club’s World Series aspirations.

“Everyone wants to make a great impression,” Baldelli said. “To have all three of those guys come in off of good camps and ramp-up periods and their breaks just putting in the work to be here and be ready. Everyone can feel it, they sense it, and now we've got a chance to watch them go out there and do it. It’s three great performances in a row.”

The Twins' offense won’t sneak up on anyone, thanks to all the fanfare. Their bullpen and rotation depth might also soon put the Majors on notice.

“Obviously, everybody knows about the offensive power that we have and how dynamic that lineup can be,” Hill said. “But now you’ve seen it from all aspects. The bullpen, the starting pitching, the lineup and defense, so it’s pretty impressive.”