Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rich Hill gets hit hard
Boston Red Sox starter Rich Hill was shelled by the Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles were ready for Rich Hill, jumping on him early with plenty of hard contact. The Boston Red Sox suffered their most lopsided loss of the season in a 10-0 shellacking at the hands of the lowly Orioles. It was Boston’s worst loss in a shutout since losing 13-0 to the A’s in April, 2013. That season turned out well in the end, serving as a reminder that we can’t panic over the occasional blowout.
The more concerning takeaway from this Memorial Day massacre was Hill’s performance. It wasn’t only the season-high six runs that the lefty allowed, it was how he allowed the damage to be done.
Hill’s command was off to begin the game, missing with two consecutive fastballs before hitting the lead-off hitter with a third. It was only the second time this season that Hill has hit a batter. The O’s made him pay. Trey Mancini drove a triple to deep right center field to put Baltimore on the board. Hill was fortunate that Mancini was thrown out attempting to score since Ryan Mountcastle followed with a solo home run to double the lead.
Even the two outs that followed were hammered. All four balls put into play against Hill in the first inning had an exit velocity of at least 99 mph, topping out at 107 mph on Mountcastle’s homer, per Baseball Savant.
According to Steve Hewitt of The Boston Herald, Hill revealed after the game that he was tipping his pitches in the first inning. While Hill refused to use that as an excuse for his poor performance, it clearly was a factor.
The Red Sox have been working with Hill on breaking this habit of tipping pitches, which most recently became an issue two starts ago against Seattle when he was chased after only two innings.
Some pitchers can get away with tipping since their stuff is so nasty that most batters can’t handle it. Hill isn’t blowing anyone away with an 89 mph fastball. His four-seam not-so-fastball and his curveball were the only pitch types that Hill utilized in the first inning. If the O’s were able to identify what was coming, it was too easy to sit back and wait for a pitch they could crush.
Hill has six pitches in his arsenal but he uses the changeup less than five percent of the time and rarely pulls out the cutter or sinker. He’s leaning heavily on his two primary pitches and if Hill was tipping to give away when he was throwing at least one of those pitches, he wasn’t going to fool anyone.
Hill allowed another home run in the third inning and was pulled after giving up a ground rule double with a runner on and nobody out in the fifth. Both inherited runners would end up scoring when Hirokazu Sawamura relieved him.
Entering this game, Hill had only allowed four home runs this season and this was only his second time allowing multiple home runs in a game. Eight pitches that were put in play by the Orioles had an exit velocity of 99+ mph and his average exit velocity in the game was 96.3 mph.
That’s unusual for Hill, whose 88.2 mph average exit velocity and 36.6% Hard Hit rate are similar to last year. They are both a bit above his career level but Hill still rates in the 61st percentile in exit velocity and 62nd percentile in Hard Hit percentage. He’s below-average in those metrics but not by an alarming amount.
Hill’s ERA has jumped nearly two full points over his last three starts, from 2.89 to 4.85. His 6.7 K/9 would be the lowest strikeout rate of his career. Giving up hard contact and not missing many bats is a bad combination.
On a positive note, these issues are likely correctable. Once Hill overcomes his issues with tipping pitches, the percentage of hard hit balls should regress toward his season and career levels. If he rectifies the problem soon, brutal performances like this one should become an outlier rather than the start of a troubling trend.