Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Hill emotional over LA return, 1st big contract

 Contract-signing announcements at the Winter Meetings are routine, but not for Rich Hill.
Speaking Monday after signing a three-year, $48 million deal to remain with the Dodgers, an emotional Hill choked up several times as he recounted the "incredible journey" to get to this payday, only three months from his 37th birthday.
Hill thanked the Dodgers, his wife, Caitlin, and his sons, Brice, who attended the news conference, and Brooks, who died from complications after birth during the spring of 2014.
"I told myself I wouldn't do this," Hill said, composing himself after a long pause. "It's been an incredible journey, but I never felt like packing it all in. You fail, you learn. When you fail, you learn. I don't think you really know what failure is -- or I didn't know what failure was until I got older and understood that that was experience. Baseball teaches us to deal with things off the field that are far greater than what you deal with on the field."
Nothing compares to the loss of a child. But Hill's professional career has also endured setbacks, from multiple injuries to banishments to the bullpen, and even to an independent league. Even in his breakout season of 2016, his first with double-digit victories since 2007, the lefty made only 20 starts because of finger blisters and a strained groin. Hill said he believes making 30 starts is realistic, although the Dodgers have the starting pitching depth to manage him carefully.
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman felt the risk was worth making Hill the third free-agent pitcher in three years to get a $48 million contract (joining Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir). Friedman said the Dodgers nearly signed Hill last winter, only to trade for him during the season.
"We spent a tremendous amount time digging into the guy's makeup, the type of competitor and type of teammate he was, and everything we got back was off the charts," Friedman said. "But being around for three months, he exceeded even our expectations. That gave us the confidence to bet on him, what he's persevered through in his career. The type of person and competitor fit us very well, and he was a huge priority for us."
The contract reportedly is somewhat backloaded, with Hill receiving a $2 million bonus and salaries of $12 million, $16 million and $18 million.
Hill said his finger blisters are behind him. Friedman seconded that.
"I inspected it," said Friedman. "I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night."
Hill slots behind ace Clayton Kershaw -- who Hill cited for his intensity and passion -- and ahead of Kenta Maeda and Julio Urias to give the Dodgers the starting-pitching quality that has enabled them to win four consecutive National League West titles.
And there's now plenty of depth from which to select a fifth starter and deal in trades, as the club has McCarthy, Kazmir, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Alex Wood on the rebound from injuries, along with talented young right-handers Jose De LeonRoss Stripling and Brock Stewart, who already have Major League experience.
Relying on a wicked curveball, Hill went 12-5 with a 2.12 ERA this past season, going 9-3 before Oakland traded him and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers on Aug. 1. The southpaw was on the disabled list with finger blisters when he was traded, and they continued to plague him the rest of the season. But when he was on the mound, Hill could be dominant, going 3-2 with a 1.83 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP in five starts for the Dodgers.
That included seven perfect innings in Miami on Sept. 10, his bid at history ending when manager Dave Roberts removed him six outs shy of a perfect game rather than risk damage to his fingers. In the postseason, Hill struggled in two starts against the Nationals (0-1, 6.43 ERA), but he beat the Cubs in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series with six scoreless innings on two hits.

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