OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — In a matter of months, Rich Hill’s remarkable path to rejoining a rotation took him from Washington’s farm system to independent ball on Long Island and then back to Boston to start in September.
Hill moved to the right side of the rubber and adjusted his arm angle along the way — and he just landed himself a nice new contract because of those significant tweaks, which might mean little to someone outside the game.
The left-hander agreed to a $6 million, one-year contract with the Oakland Athletics on Friday, giving the small-budget franchise a versatile, experienced pitcher who can handle a variety of roles.
Yet they’re counting on him as a starter. Hill chose the A’s because he gets to start again.
“It was really a personal journey for myself getting back to what I always wanted to do, being a starting pitcher,” said Hill, who will be reunited with his former Boston pitching coach, Curt Young.
In another move Friday designed to help the pitching staff, Oakland acquired reliever Liam Hendriks from the Toronto Blue Jays for right-hander Jesse Chavez.
Hill took his physical in the Bay Area and the team announced the deal before he was expected to fly back to Boston in the afternoon. Hill became the second free agent to switch teams after infielder Cliff Pennington joined the Los Angeles Angels earlier in the week.
The 35-year-old lefty began the 2015 season with Washington’s Triple-A club in Syracuse before going 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA in four starts and 29 innings with the Boston Red Sox as a September call-up. He had 36 strikeouts and five walks.
“Honestly, it started when I was throwing bullpens back home. I could feel the consistency, I could feel the ball coming out of my hand the way I wanted it to,” Hill said. “Every outing built off the prior outing. That was really where that came from. It was always there — it was getting the opportunity and running with it. The confidence has always been there, the ability has always been there. For me it was no surprise what happened in September.”
General manager David Forst and executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane learned the importance of pitching depth in recent seasons with a rash of injuries in both the rotation and bullpen.
“There’s probably not a better example than 2015 in our case of needing as many starting pitchers as you can possibly get,” Forst said.
Hill has a 26-23 career record and 4.54 ERA in parts of 11 seasons as a starter and reliever for the Chicago Cubs, Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, the Angels and Yankees.
“You can never have too much pitching,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He has had success as a starter and that’s how we see him. He was terrific in his late-season starts and it’s nice to have another veteran guy.”
After going 2-2 with a 2.91 ERA in 25 relief appearances with Syracuse, Hill was released June 24 and then made two starts with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League before signing a minor league deal with Boston on Aug. 14.
The A’s sure noticed the changes, as did other clubs who expressed interest.
Hill said Oakland gave him “respect” from the start of the process and that meant a lot in his decision.
“Rich’s story is a good one. You have to respect the passion he showed going to independent ball and knowing what he wanted,” Forst said. “He wanted to start and proved he was willing to do whatever it took to kind of reinvent himself that way.”
Now, Hill is aiming for a full workload come 2016.
“I feel I’m capable of throwing 200-plus innings,” he said. “I honestly believe that.”
The A’s cleared room on the 40-man roster by designating right-hander A.J. Griffin for assignment. He missed all of 2014 and much of this past season recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery. He wound up on the disabled list again June 20 with a strained right shoulder and didn’t pitch again.
Griffin was 0-1 with a 3.77 ERA in four starts between Class A Stockton and Triple-A Nashville.
“It was a long road for A.J.,” Forst said. “Everybody here thinks A.J. is going to pitch again in the big leagues.”
The A’s also selected lefty Jose Torres and infielder Joey Wendle from the minors, designating for assignment lefty Fernando Abad and outfielder Craig Gentry.
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