The Red Sox and Rich Hill, hard as it may be to believe, have been playing their little game of "will he, won't he, and then he does before he doesn't" for three years now. Starting out as a rare minor league signing that actually drew some interest given his history with the Cubs, Sox fans would only get to see four innings in the majors that year after Hill proved himself more than competent in the minors.
Thanks to the awful state of the bullpen in 2010, Hill got a small taste of spotlight in the following offseason as Sox fans looked anywhere and everywhere for signs that there was relief on the way. And when Hill finally got the call in May, it seemed like he was going to come through. He added eight scoreless innings in eight appearances to make it 12 scoreless to start his Red Sox career, and then promptly headed off to have Tommy John Surgery.
Between the surgery and the seemingly improved Sox pen, Hill faded into the background heading into 2012, actually being non-tendered by the Sox before resigning on a minor league deal as the team pinched every penny it could. After an injury to Andrew Bailey, a terrible start for Mark Melancon, and Alfredo Aceves' failure in the closing role, however, it quickly became apparent that there was still plenty of need for help, and desperate Sox fans once again found themselves wondering when Rich Hill would pitch.
Hill would finally return to the majors as the first month of the season was coming to a close--an awfully fast recovery given the procedure in question--surrendering his first run as a member of the Red Sox before rattling off eight more scoreless frames. The loopy curveball was still doing its job, for the most part, and sure enough Rich Hill recorded outs. Hill found his way back to the disabled list in June, but this time would actually manage to return before the next season, adding six more scoreless innings to his tally before the year was done, albeit primarily in low-pressure roles.
Hill didn't really look quite as dominant this year as he had in those few appearances he made in 2010 and 2011. The location of the curve (his primary offering) wasn't always there, leaving him victim of a good few walks and, for the first time in a while, four major league runs. He was still entirely effective when he actually took the mound, recording 19.2 innings of 1.83 ERA ball, but by this point it's hard to put your trust in his ability to stay off the disabled list.
That wouldn't be such a big deal for Hill, except a lot of other guys who had been pushing for a pen spot really did a lot to prove themselves in 2012. Junichi Tazawa is going absolutely nowhere after what he did for the Sox in the late going, and Clayton Mortensen could be hard to push out, too. Andrew Miller seems to be the go-to-guy for lefties right now, and the Sox aren't going to give up on Andrew Bailey or Mark Melancon just yet. With Craig Breslow an easy call to take a spot, that leaves precious little space in the pen. Only three of our six Armchair GM rosters included Hill.
Hopefully the Sox will either find a space for him on the major league roster, or be able to convince him to stay on again in the minors. Hill is a terrific guy to have around, he's just difficult to depend on, and ultimately probably has to be set aside if a more reliable option is available.