On the eve of their first Spring Training workout for pitchers and catchers, the Rays officially announced the signing of veteran left-hander Rich Hill. Even before throwing his first bullpen session in Port Charlotte, Fla., Hill made it clear why he believes he’s found the right fit with the defending American League champions.
"The opportunity to win -- and win now,” Hill said. “I don’t think it’s any secret I’m trying to win a World Series and somewhat, I guess if you want to say, chase it. Once you've been there a couple times and fallen short, it's kind of become like an obsession. That's the only thing. You want to get back there and finish it."
Hill joined the Rays on a one-year, $2.5 million deal, which the two sides agreed to last week. He shares not only a strong desire to win the final game of the season, but also a history with manager Kevin Cash. Hill, who will turn 41 next month, played with the 43-year-old Cash in Boston, and they crossed paths years later when Cash was Cleveland’s bullpen coach. Now, Cash is confident that Hill will provide leadership for the Rays’ young pitchers and experience in their rotation.
“Look, he's been a pretty special pitcher when he's healthy,” Cash said. “It's our job, and along with his, to do everything we can to get him up to speed, get him healthy and let him go do his thing. There's not a ton of messaging that's going to be involved with Rich. We know what he's capable of. He knows what makes him good.”
Hill has spent time on the injured list over the past few years with blister, knee, forearm and shoulder issues, and he entered Spring Training a year ago recovering from left elbow surgery to repair a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament. But Hill’s fastball-curveball combination has made him dominant when he’s taken the mound.
“He has been a quality, impactful pitcher when he's taken the ball the last several years. And that's something that we expect to continue,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said. “He’s an A-plus competitor. He’s a winner. He's been on winning clubs and in winning atmospheres and has played a huge part in that.”
The Rays moved left-hander Colin Poche, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery, to the 60-day injured list to make room on their 40-man roster for Hill and right-hander Oliver Drake. Tampa Bay can clear another roster spot -- perhaps for righty Collin McHugh, who agreed to a deal last week that is still pending a physical and could be finalized soon -- by moving right-hander Yonny Chirinos to the 60-day IL in the coming days.
Neander said the basic idea is for Hill to provide “length” to their pitching staff, ideally as a starter but potentially also as a bulk-innings pitcher coming in after an opener. The Rays have stocked up on starting/bulk-inning options this offseason, preparing to traverse the unusual path from last year’s 60-game season to a full schedule in 2021.
“I think we're operating with a lot of humility with respect to what we're going to need and what this is going to have to look like to navigate this season successfully,” Neander said. “And I think if we're going to be off the mark with our innings, we prefer to miss with too many innings rather than too few.”
Hill went 2-2 with a 3.03 ERA in 38 2/3 innings over eight starts for the Twins last season. From 2016-19, the lefty went 39-19 with a 3.00 ERA and 517 strikeouts in 437 1/3 innings over 83 outings. Overall, he’s spent parts of 16 seasons with nine teams in the Majors.
The opportunity to make another postseason run with the reigning AL East champions undoubtedly appealed to Hill, who pitched in the postseason with the Dodgers each year from 2016-19. Hill has proven to be quite effective on that stage, too, posting a 3.06 ERA over 13 career postseason outings, including 12 starts. He didn’t appear in the postseason last year, as the Twins were swept out of the Wild Card Series.
“[I] want to help the team win, and not just help the team win but be a big part of it. I think being a big part of that is leading by example,” Hill said. “I always talk about intensity and passion, and you’ve got to have those two things to go out there and compete. I wouldn't be doing this at going into age 41 if I didn't have both of those things.”
Hill entered last season as the oldest active pitcher in the Majors. If he appears in a game for the Rays on May 24 or later, he will become the oldest player in club history; that title currently belongs to Wade Boggs, who was 41 years and 73 days old for his final game with Tampa Bay. The veteran joked on Thursday that the Rays clubhouse was “like the land of redwoods over here.”
“There’s a lot of tall guys and big arms,” Hill said, smiling.
While the Rays will be relying on a lot of those younger, big-armed pitchers like Tyler Glasnow this season, they’ve also added experienced players to their pitching staff in Hill, Michael Wacha and Chris Archer. Neander has previously said this will be a transitional year for the rotation, and Tampa Bay’s hope is that those veterans will make the leap easier on an important group of young arms coming up.
“It’s going to be exciting. I’m excited to work with those guys and see them go out there and bring that kind of intensity,” Hill said. “You see the ability, and what they’ve gained in experience from last year they can carry over into the 2021 season. Therefore, it’s not a season of, ‘Oh, it was disappointing.’ It’s a season of, ‘Look what we’ve gained from playing through the Division Series, the ALCS and into the World Series.’
“It's something that all those guys will carry that from last year and see it as a challenge to finish the job.”