Rich Hill's mantra stayed the same as his Dodgers moved through the 2017 MLB postseason. It has actually stayed the same since the beginning of his up-and-down 13-year career, and it is simple: Stay in the moment. Make the pitch. Make the pitch after that. And don't ever quit working.As
Rich Hill's mantra stayed the same as his Dodgers moved through the 2017 MLB postseason. It has actually stayed the same since the beginning of his up-and-down 13-year career, and it is simple: Stay in the moment. Make the pitch. Make the pitch after that. And don't ever quit working.
As Hill, 37, looks ahead to his 14th big league season after coming oh-so-close to his first World Series title last fall, he is applying that same philosophy to his offseason training.
"The biggest thing I can point to is being able to understand how to execute in the moment and stay in the moment, and it's the same thing in the weight room for me as it is on the mound," Hill said.
"Trying to focus on one set at a time, one rep at a time and not think too far ahead or about what you did before. Trying to gradually increase strength and to not do too much too fast. When you're young, you want to get bigger, stronger, faster yesterday. But eventually you will get bigger, stronger, faster if you continue to take that one step at a time."
Hill has been working out with Mike Boyle at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning in Woburn, Mass. -- 20 miles up Route 93 from his hometown of Milton, Mass. -- for nine years.
On this chilly December morning, the workout begins at 7 a.m., and I have the opportunity to join in. The group is extra large today, and it includes Hill's nephew, several college pitchers, Major League pitcher Craig Breslow and free-agent pitcher Jeremy Bleich.
Boyle said each offseason he simply aims to get Hill back to where the lefty was.
"The goal is to get back to that baseline," Boyle said. "To get strength back, to get power back. As guys age, there is a natural physiological decline you want to avoid. We're not talking about a 20-year-old kid and thinking, 'We've got to get him stronger, we've got to get him faster.' If I can get Rich back to the point where he was a year ago, and he can go back and repeat what he did a year ago, the Dodgers are happy, Rich is happy, everybody is happy."
During the offseason, Hill works out four days per week with Boyle, and it is a schedule that Hill is easily able to adapt to his every-fifth-day pitching schedule during the regular season. The workouts focus on maintaining Hill's athleticism and balancing out the one-sidedness that results from being a big league pitcher.
"I think pitchers as they age become less and less athletic," Boyle said. "Most pitchers were the best athletes at their school, in three sports, but by the time they're in their 30s, they don't do anything except pitch. We are trying to reinstall some of that athleticism and get them away from being the one-dimensional, one-sided pitching machines they become in Major League Baseball."
To that end, Hill's programming includes power exercises like jumping, sprinting and throwing medicine balls rotationally and from both sides. In the weight room, unilateral, single-arm and diagonal exercises are used to keep the system balanced.
The workout begins on Boyle's long stretch of turf with static stretching, including pigeon pose and legs-up-the-wall pose -- two yoga staples -- and some barefoot walking on fake rocks, which Boyle says opens the fascia on the bottom of the feet and can reduce back pain. Next come some core and muscle activation exercises to, as Boyle says, "get things turned back on." Then, a dynamic warmup -- including walking and jogging sets of high knees, hamstring kicks and lunges -- brings the body through its ranges of motion at a slower pace in preparation for the jumping and sprinting to follow.
Hill's first tri-set -- a group of three exercises, done back-to-back, several times through -- begins with throwing medicine balls against a cinder-block wall, both overhead like a soccer throw-in and from each side, both from a stationary position and with a crow-hop. Then, he hops, single-legged, over a row of hurdles and finishes with a short sprint.
From there, the group moves into the weight room, where three more tri-sets await.
"We start with explosive exercises, because with pitchers, we don't do the Olympic lifts," Boyle said. "We like to sprinkle in core and mobility so we get an active rest and don't have a let down where we do a set and stand around. I like packing a lot of density into a 45-minute period."
The weight room tri-sets include jump squats, planks with a body saw, several one-armed rowing exercises and single-leg exercises with both dumbbells and kettlebells and rotational exercises with cables. While Hill acknowledges he may not lift the kind of weight he lifted when he was 25, he said he feels stronger than ever.
"It's all about gauging the amount of weight you are using and the amount of output you will exert," he says. "The weight I may have been lifting at the end of the first year here isn't necessarily the same as it is now, the numbers may have been higher, but technique has gotten a lot better and being able to maintain the technique has made me overall much stronger."
That strength served Hill well as he powered through left shoulder surgery in 2009 and Tommy John surgery in '11.
"To be functionally strong is the biggest thing," Hill said. "It has kept my career in line through multiple surgeries and any kind of adversity I may have faced. Coming here every offseason helps me to get my body back in a position to play a full season."
The training continues back on the turf, with five 25-yard sled pushes.
"The sled march falls somewhere in the middle of conditioning and speed development," Boyle said. "We are getting ready for sled sprinting, which will be more of a lower body power exercise."
The session finishes with eight 100-meter tempo runs, done shuttle-run style on a 25-meter course, with a 25-meter recovery walk in between each run. They let Breslow, who majored in molecular biophysics at Yale and is a known brainiac, do the counting.
"We're not timing and we're not racing," Boyle said. "It's just to get a 15- to 18-minute period of elevated heart rate."
Hill will follow this big lower-body workout with an upper-body workout that focuses on shoulder rehab and pre-hab in addition to strength and stability the next day.
"I've found this program works for me," Hill said. "You have to find out what works for you and what will make you successful."
Now, though, after tasting November baseball, Hill has a whole new understanding of the meaning of success, and that newfound drive is fueling his offseason workouts.
"You heard guys like Derek Jeter say the season was a failure because they didn't win the World Series, and when you get to that point where you are in the World Series, you get it," Hill said. "You know the end goal: win the World Series. That's it."
Lindsay Berra has covered a variety of sports, from baseball and hockey to tennis and the Olympics, since 1999. She joined MLB.com in 2013.