Taylor Hill’s breakthrough with Triple=A Syracuse and the Nationals’ need for length in their bullpen following last night’s 16-inning game has landed the 25-year-old in the major leagues for the first time.
Hill is having a tremendous first full season at Triple-A, tying for the International League lead with a 1.92 ERA, leading the IL with 93 2/3 innings and ranking second with a 0.99 WHIP. Stingy, indeed.
Now he finds himself in a Nationals uniform, filling a long-relief role.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” Hill said at Miller Park. “It’s something I’ve been dreaming about. I always wanted to play baseball, but until high school, I never really thought there was a chance that I could even go play college ball. And then after that, just kind of the way I was able to play high school and college gave me an opportunity here, with all the help of our pitching coaches, honestly.”
The news was broken on Twitter by Hill’s college coach at Vanderbilt, Tim Corbin.
“Coach Corbin, I’m sure everybody had a field day with his tweet,” Hill said. “I don’t know about that. I didn’t intend for that. I texted him. I should’ve told him not to say anything.”
Hill found out he’d be joining the Nats in Milwaukee when Syracuse manager Billy Gardner Jr. called him at 2 a.m. Hill was watching a movie, but was soon headed back to the ballpark to pack his things to catch a 6:20 a.m. flight.
“I was obviously pumped and surprised, and pleasantly surprised, and then I kind of just went from there, just trying to get everything together,” Hill said of what started a chaotic 12 hours. “It’s been fun. I can’t complain about it. That’s for sure.”
Hill had been good in the minors before this year, starting to break out a year ago when he went 9-9 with a 2.95 ERA in 28 games (27 starts) with Syracuse, Double-A Harrisburg and Single-A Potomac. He went 11-7 with a 4.91 ERA at Single-A in 2012.
So his performance this year has marked quite a jump with his ERA lowering more than a run from his impressive showing in 2013.
So what has been working for Hill?
“I really think commanding my fastball a lot better,” he said. “I’m not going to go out and blow guys away. That’s not who I am. I just want to go out and be able to throw strikes and give our team a chance to win. It sounds weird, but my goal is to see the least amount of time I can stay out on the mound because I think the least amount of time that I’m out there, the more time we’re going to be on offense, and that obviously translates to us not giving up runs, too; or me, specifically.
“I think it’s just more of a mental thing for me last year and this year, because my first year I really didn’t have it. I didn’t pitch that well. But it was fine. It was a good adjustment. It was a good learning period for me, too. I think I really needed that. Without that, I don’t think I would even be here. I think I’d be mediocre, one of those Low-A pitchers or whatever. But everything’s kind of come together.”
Hill has been somewhat surprised by his swift leap from starting at Single-A last year to being a fixture at Triple-A this season and then earning a call-up to the majors.
“Yeah, I am, but pleasantly surprised,” he said. “I just go out and pitch. I try not to look too far and who’s going where, anything like that. There’s nothing I can do about that except go out and pitch, and kind of do my thing. There’s nothing I can say that’s going to get me here.
“It’s all about how you pitch, and fortunately I’ve been able to pitch well and I can’t say enough about the defenses that’s been playing behind me, too, because without them, I wouldn’t be here, to be honest. I don’t go strike out 10 guys a game. I might strike out five, whatever the case may be. So fortunately, been able to play good defense, too.”
Going to the majors will be one adjustment, but so will a move to the bullpen. Only 10 of his 79 minor league appearances in four seasons since being drafted have come in relief.
“I’m doing what I’m told. I’ve pitched out of the ‘pen,” Hill said. “I actually came out of the ‘pen once this year because (Ross) Ohlendorf came out for a rehab start, and then my first year, I piggybacked the first month and a half. I came out of the ‘pen in college, too. So it’s not something I’m not ready for. I’ve done it before, just not in a full season I guess you can say.”
But Hill isn’t worried about his role or the like. He’s just happy to be in the big leagues.
“It’s been really cool and it’s obviously a dream come true,” he said.