Nearing baseball activity, Hill eyes June return

January 25th, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- After heard that the Twins signed Rich Hill, he made sure to hop on the phone with general manager Thad Levine.

"Hey Thad, you got Rich Hill?" Romo recounted. "Wow. All right. You have no idea what you've signed with that guy."

Romo spoke with the highest regard of his experiences with Hill in the clubhouse, which will be particularly important for the Twins in the first several months of the left-hander's one-year contract, when Hill will be sidelined as he recovers from an October surgery on his pitching elbow.

The 39-year-old Hill might still be a factor on the field for the Twins sooner rather than later. Hill said at TwinsFest on Friday that he will begin baseball activity and get back into his throwing motion with a baseball next week, and he hopes to be back on a Major League mound for the Twins by early June.

"I can't wait," Hill said. "I wish I could be joining everybody in Spring Training and get going from the beginning, but I get it. [I'm going] to take the time that's needed to get back so I don't have any setbacks."

Hill said that he pitched through pain for much of 2019 after his ulnar collateral ligament detached from the bone around June. Though he still maintained a 2.45 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings over 13 starts for the Dodgers, he knew that a procedure would be necessary to ensure his sustainability and elected to undergo the relatively new surgery with Dr. Jeffrey Dugas of the Andrews Sports Medicine Center in Birmingham, Ala.

"It’s only a six-year-old surgery, and it’s had a huge amount of success of people who have had it and come back," Hill said. "I think it’s above a 95 percent success rate, so it’s something that I’m extremely excited about. I know I’m not getting any younger in this game, but I know I have a lot of experience and knowledge to bring to this clubhouse."

Until Hill's return, the Twins will count on him as another veteran addition in a clubhouse with a wide variety of experienced personalities that already includes the unassuming Nelson Cruz, the quiet Tyler Clippard, the boisterous Romo and the cerebral Alex Avila. The group is at the head of a large core of young, homegrown players that is faced with major expectations for the first time.

"He's very straightforward," Romo said of Hill. "He's very likable. He's a great teammate because he's very caring. He kind of thinks of other people first, and in a business like this, it's kind of hard to find."

The Twins knew that they weren't going to get a full season out of Hill when they signed him, and whenever he returns to the field, the hope is that he will contribute quality innings to a postseason push late in the summer, then in the playoffs. Hill owns a 3.00 ERA with 517 strikeouts in 437 1/3 innings over the last four seasons. He also has a 3.06 ERA in 53 career postseason frames.

"If we can get this guy to come back and give us competitive innings in the second half or the last third of the season, that's all we're looking for," pitching coach Wes Johnson said. "We know this guy's pedigree in the playoffs and his stuff."

And Hill fully intends on making it back to the postseason with the Twins. He wouldn't be here otherwise.

"It really came down to winning a World Series," Hill said. "That’s the biggest thing. ... I think that’s something that, looking at this locker room and looking at a team that won over 100 games last year, it was a huge, motivating factor for me in signing here.

"The main goal for me is to bring as much energy and effort as I can to this clubhouse and help the team obviously, get to the postseason, win the division and then win 11 games to hold that trophy."