FORT MYERS, Fla. — Rich Hill is looking forward to Pitcher’s Fielding Practice.
Pitchers aren’t usually fond of PFPs, a necessary evil, But for Hill, the ability to participate means he’s one step closer to getting back on the mound, and that’s what he is really after.
The 39-year-old left-hander, signed by the Twins in December, is rehabbing his left elbow after undergoing a primary revision this offseason, and he anticipates being able to participate in PFPs with his teammates this week.
“It sounds boring, but for me to be able to get doing more things than not, I think it’s a good thing just mentally, too, to be able to work the body the way you want to work it,” Hill said.
Hill began throwing shortly after TwinsFest and is entering his third week of throwing. He has been throwing Monday, Wednesday and Friday, slowly increasing the distance and the number of throws. Near the middle of March, he figures he will graduate to long toss. April will act as his February, and May as his March, with June being the target date for a return.
A healthy and effective June return would be a big boost for the Twins’ rotation, as Hill has performed well when not injured. Last year, he was 4-1 with a 2.45 earned-run average in 13 games for the Dodgers.
“We want to do a few things with Rich. One, first and foremost, is to put him in position to come back as soon as possible and as healthy as possible. You want the best version of Rich Hill when he comes back,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You really don’t want to be in a situation where you feel like you are rushing him. But also you want to take advantage of the fact that he is a veteran, that he has had a lot of experience, a guy I think can bring a lot to our group. So having him around his teammates is really important.”
The southpaw underwent the primary revision — a surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament after he re-injured it — after pitching through discomfort last season.
Hill first had Tommy John surgery in 2011. This surgery is an alternative to having a second Tommy John, and Hill believes it is something more players will begin to explore.
“I’m already seeing that the throwing progression has started to pick up … and that’s only 14 weeks out from surgery … so it’s actually a considerable amount of time that the process gets to advance,” Hill said. “The processes advance that much faster (than Tommy John surgery), and I think it’s something that obviously can be a benefit to many guys moving forward.”
There isn’t a whole lot of precedence for it yet, though, and Hill said he doesn’t believe another starter in the majors has had it. But he expressed full confidence in his ability to return.
“I think it’s something that is extremely encouraging for me. the way the ball is coming out of my hand feeling as normal as it has without throwing bullpens or competing against hitters,” Hill said. “Right now, it feels very good, so I’m really encouraged. Usually you can tell how things are going to go from the beginning, and I’m fortunate that it’s been going really well.”
Though he is approaching 40 — he will hit the milestone age on March 11 — when Hill was first sidelined last year, there was no doubt in his mind he would be able to come back.
That doubt hasn’t wavered one bit since then. Hill fell short of a World Series title in both 2017 and 2018 with the Dodgers, and is determined to come back and reach that ultimate goal.
“I never think it’s the end. I always figured I would play forever until I can’t,” he said. “I want to continue to keep going and help this team win a World Series in 2020.”