Hill makes quick work of Rays in 11-K outing

August 28th, 2022

BOSTON -- Pitching like a man who had an early dinner reservation on this beautiful summer Saturday, Rich Hill carved up the Rays by pitching at a breakneck pace and turning in an exquisite performance for a 42-year-old, or, really, a pitcher of any age.

Backed by a vintage performance from Hill, the Red Sox stifled the Rays, 5-1, on Saturday at Fenway Park.

While Hill’s third stint with the Red Sox has mostly consisted of starts in which manager Alex Cora was looking for roughly 15 outs, this was a different day.

Boston’s bullpen was short-handed, and the hope was that Hill could go deeper than usual.

Hill responded with season highs in innings (seven) and strikeouts (11), while setting the tone for a two-hour, 24-minute game that felt like it was from a different era.

“I think that’s one thing that as a starting pitcher, you want to go as deep as you can in the game and have the ball in your hand until the manager says that’s enough,” said Hill.

Was Hill’s decision to work overly fast a conscious one?

“Yeah, it was,” said Hill. “To be able to work quickly and put the onus [on the hitter], too. But I think part of it too is the looming [pitch] clock that’s on the horizon that everyone’s talking about. I feel like if we can maybe collectively as a whole work a little bit quicker throughout the league, maybe they won’t implement the pitch clock.”

It was somewhat humorous to watch the cat-and-mouse game between Hill and Tampa Bay’s hitters. 

“He was locked in. They were stepping out, but he kept going,” said Cora. “He didn’t let that bother him. You throw strikes, you have great tempo, you have the guys play great defense behind you. Today was one of those days.”

Several times, a Rays batter stepped out, was granted time, and Hill threw the pitch anyway. He had to know those pitches wouldn’t count, right?

“One hundred percent. No, just getting the work in,” quipped Hill, who threw 95 pitches that were counted officially, 71 of them for strikes.

Hill became the first Red Sox pitcher to record 11-plus strikeouts in a game at age 40 or older. The last pitcher to record 11-plus strikeouts while in his 40s? Hall of Famer Randy Johnson in 2008.

In this age of baseball where velocity rules, Hill put on a clinic while topping out at 91.5 mph with his fastball and averaging 89.4. His curveball maxed out at 75.2 mph with a low of 68.1. For good measure, Hill also mixed in cutters, sliders, changeups and sinkers.

“That’s pitching. That’s kind of the art of it,” said Hill. “Being able to change speeds, change arm angles, change eye levels, [use] quick pitch, and hesitation, work the top of the zone, bottom of the zone and the backdoor cutters were great today too. That’s one thing that I love about this sport and obviously the position that I play, being a pitcher, not a thrower. I think that’s one thing that makes it a lot of fun.”

The one player on the Red Sox who had seen this type of performance from Hill many times before was Kiké Hernández. They were teammates with the Dodgers from 2016-19.

“He’s had some [great] performances that I can remember, but this one was dominant,” Hernández said. “He had incredible pace, he had every pitch working for a strike from the breaking ball, to the side-arm heater and then everything over the top and he was mixing the quick pitch. He was mixing the little [hesitation] and the shadows didn’t hurt either. It was fun to play behind.”

The only challenge for Hernández in center was keeping up with Hill. 

“It was a little bit uncomfortable on defense. I was just thinking the whole time, ‘These guys gotta be going crazy in the batter’s box.’ There’s no way you can get comfortable when a guy’s working that quick,” Hernández said. “I’ve never seen a game where there were so many timeouts called in the middle of the wind-up. It was fun to watch.”

The Rays couldn’t help but show some appreciation for a player who pitched 19 games for Tampa Bay in 2021 before getting traded to the Mets.

“He's the Fountain of Youth over there,” said Rays lefty Jeffrey Springs, who took the loss. “The guy knows how to pitch. Even at this age, he's good. He's a competitor and understands how to get outs. There's no telling how long he will play, because he's still got it.”