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Hill given a spot on the mound

Milton native gets ‘great opportunity’

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / September 14, 2010

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SEATTLE — Rich Hill was at the Patriots game with his father Sunday and he received the telephone call he had been waiting a long time for. It was from the Red Sox saying they had a roster spot for him.

“We left a little early and got out of there after the first quarter,’’ said Hill, who a day later was standing in the visitors’ clubhouse at Safeco Field trying on No. 53 for size. “But this is exciting. It’s a great opportunity.’’

Hill, 30, grew up in Milton and now lives in South Boston. A Red Sox fan all his life, the Cubs drafted him out of the University of Michigan in 2002. He since has spent time with the Orioles and Cardinals before signing a minor league deal with the Sox in June.

“It’s quite an honor to be able to come here,’’ Hill said. “I went to a lot of games and saw a lot of games at Fenway sitting there. My brother and his friends are season ticket-holders. It’s fun.’’

Here’s how much of a Red Sox fan Hill is: when asked to name his favorite players growing up, he first said Dwight Evans and then mentioned Carlos Quintana, the first baseman and occasional outfielder from 1988-91 and 1993.

Hill is 21-20 with a 4.87 earned run average in parts of five seasons in the majors. Of his 78 appearances, all but eight have been starts. When healthy, he has one of the best curveballs in the game.

Hill was a solid part of the Cubs rotation in 2007, going 11-8 with an ERA of 3.92 ERA and pitching 195 innings. He has not been the same pitcher since because of back and shoulder injuries.

The Cubs traded Hill to Baltimore before the 2009 season. He was 3-3 with a 7.80 ERA in 14 games before having surgery in August to have his shoulder labrum repaired along with a muscle in his rotator cuff.

Hill started this season in Triple A with the Cardinals, then joined the Sox June 30 after opting out of his contract.

In 19 games for Pawtucket, six of them starts late in the season, Hill was 3-1 with a 3.74 ERA. Lefthanders hit .170 against him.

“It’s been a really successful season thus far,’’ Hill said. “Playing the whole season healthy. I did a lot of rehab stuff in the offseason to strengthen my shoulder up and now it feels great. To have this entire season healthy is an accomplishment itself.’’

The Sox helped Hill build strength by having him pitch on a regular schedule that included two days off between appearances.

“There were no issues,’’ he said. “Starting in Pawtucket, putting up good numbers, showing the fastball velocity is back, the breaking ball hasn’t gone anywhere. The stuff is still there. Everything has really come around full circle. It has been nice.’’

The Sox, according to manager Terry Francona, have told Hill they would like to have him return to the organization next season. Pitching well in the final two weeks of the season could cement that offer.

“It’s a good opportunity to come out and pitch well and make the most of it,’’ Hill said.

He threw in the bullpen when he arrived at Safeco Field and was available to pitch against the Mariners last night. The Sox plan to use him out of the bullpen.

“We felt like maybe it would be a good idea to get him here,’’ Francona said. “With the breaking ball and the stuff, it’s a nice chance to learn more about him.’’

To make room for Hill on the roster, Kevin Youkilis (thumb) was transferred to the 60-day DL.

Doubront questionable
The addition of Hill relates directly to the likelihood that rookie lefthander Felix Doubront will not pitch again this season.

The 22-year-old has not appeared in a game since Aug. 31 because of pain in the front of his shoulder at the junction of his neck and chest. He underwent a series of tests in Boston last week and is scheduled for another examination sometime this week.

Doubront is not with the team and at this point would need at least a week to get his arm in shape to pitch in a game. With the season ending Oct. 3, barring a miracle, there is little reason to take any risks.

“We’re going to be conservative with him,’’ Francona said.

Drew sits out
J.D. Drew jammed his right ankle during Sunday’s game against Oakland and was out of the lineup for the Sox’ 5-1 win last night. He also is playing with a sore left hamstring.

With Drew out, Francona used an all-rookie outfield of Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish, and Josh Reddick. Kalish and Nava knocked in three of the Sox’ runs, two coming on Kalish’s homer in the eighth.

It was the 43d outfield combination the Sox have employed this season, the most in the majors since the Indians had 45 last season, and the most for the Sox since the 1996 team used 43.

Farrell ailing
The Sox were without pitching coach John Farrell, who has kidney stones and will not be with the team tonight. Bullpen coach Gary Tuck filled in for Farrell and strength and conditioning coach Dave Page was out in the bullpen . . . Mike Lowell said in April that he planned to retire, something he reiterated last month. But he hasn’t talked to Francona about it. The manager said he planned to balance the playing time at first base between Lowell and rookie Lars Anderson. “We want to have lineups that look like we can win the game,’’ Francona said. Through Sunday, Lowell was 12 for 65 (.185) over 20 games with two RBIs . . . The addition of Hill gives the Sox 35 players on the active roster. They have had 54 on the roster for at least one day this season . . . Single A Greenville beat Lakewood, 3-1, in Game 1 of the best-of-five championship series in the South Atlantic League. Drake Britton pitched five shutout innings for the win and Reynaldo Rodriguez had two RBIs.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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