Hill tests changeup in Cactus League debut

February 24th, 2019

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- This was the scenario that Royals left-hander reliever wanted to test his new-found changeup: Bases loaded, one out, right-handed hitter up.

And Hill got Rangers second baseman Andy Ibanez to hit a weak fly to right in the fourth inning. Hill got the next hitter to fly out to left and thus stranded three runners in the Royals’ 9-1 victory in the Cactus League opener Saturday at Surprise Stadium.

Hill last season had relied primarily on his two-seam and four-seam fastballs, along with his slider. This offseason, Hill has been trying to develop a changeup, which could be a weapon, especially against right-handed hitters, who posted a .774 OPS against Hill last season.

“I got my first out with [the changeup],” Hill said, smiling. “It did exactly what I wanted it to do.

”For the most part, I’m just trying to get hitters to hit it down. The changeup, he hit in the air, but I think it’s because he was early on it.”

Hill got a taste of a high-leverage situation right away, which he didn’t mind. He retired all five hitters he faced.

“Right to it, I guess,” he said. “Of course, you’re always trying to leave the runners out there. It’s good practice. Just a little extra heart rate [the] first time out. It’s fun.”

Sparkman sharp

Right-hander Glenn Sparkman got the start in the opener and retired the first four hitters he faced, two on strikeouts. He was nicked for a run and two hits over two innings.

Sparkman is one of about 10 to 12 Royals who will be stretched out this spring as the Royals try to determine who their No. 5 starter will be.

“I felt good and tried to keep the ball down,” Sparkman said. “Had some little butterflies, and it was good to get that first one out of the way.”

Upcoming pitchers

The Royals will travel to Mesa on Sunday to play the A’s in a 2:05 p.m. CT game. Rule 5 Draft pick Sam McWilliams, a right-hander, will get the start. He will be followed by right-handers Kyle Zimmer, left-hander Richard Lovelady and right-hander Zach Lovvorn.

On Monday in Surprise against the Rockies, right-hander Scott Barlow will start. He will be followed by lefty Brian Flynn, and right-handers Arnaldo Hernandez, Scott Blewett and Conner Greene.