Rich Hill: 36 and in His Prime

Calling Rich Hill‘s baseball career “tumultuous” would be an understatement.

Way back in 2002, optimism was aplenty for Hill after being drafted in the 4th round of the MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs. In the minors, his curveball was filthy and his strikeout totals were noticeably high. His 88-92 MPH fastball and changeup also deserve to be noted.

Once he got to the big-leagues, things didn’t look all that bad.

After turning in a 9.13 ERA in 10 games in 2005 and a 4.17 ERA in 17 games in 2006, Hill looked to be a formidable Major League-starter in 2007 by going 11-8 with a 3.92 ERA. Are those record-breaking numbers? No. But for his first year starting north of 20 games (32 to be exact), he displayed great potential.

A main-stay in the Cubs’ starting rotation for years to come, right?

Not quite.

In 2008, things went downhill quickly. He had a lot of trouble finding the strike zone which led to his eventual demotion to the Iowa Cubs of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. After continuing his terrible year in Iowa, he was sent to rookie-ball in Mesa.

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

His struggles continued in Mesa, which led to then-Cubs Manager Lou Pinella threatening to shut him down. He rallied his way back from that though, eventually getting called up to the Single-A Daytona Cubs.

After 2008, Hill’s career took a turn for the worst.

In 2009, he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles. He started 13 games that year and went 3-3 with a 7.80 ERA: numbers far from the version of Hill the league had seen just two years prior.

Hill began 2010 within the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league system and midway through the campaign decided to opt out of his contract. He then went on to sign with the Boston Red Sox and from 2010-2012, he had a 1.14 ERA in 40 appearances (all out of the bullpen). Not to mention the fact that in 2011, he had Tommy John surgery on his left elbow.

After his initial tenure with the Red Sox, things continued to get worse.

He was in and out of the minor leagues with the Cleveland Indians, the Red Sox (again), the Los Angeles Angels, the New York Yankees, the Washington Nationals, and even the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.

But in 2015, “the third time is the charm” rang true for Hill: he went back to Boston for his third stint with the team and was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket on September 8th. He started his first game in six years and, in two of his starts, he gave up only 2 hits: one start being seven innings while the other was a complete game. His ERA was also at 1.55 at year’s end.

Currently, he’s with the Oakland Athletics, which may explain why you may not have ever heard of him or know of what he’s presently doing.

He’s 3-3 in 6 starts with a 2.53 ERA. His ERA ranks 13th in the American League while his 41 strikeouts are tied for 3rd. He was even the A’s Opening Day starter after Sonny Gray went down with food poisoning.

His curveball has been tremendous thus far which is one of the reasons that his strikeout count has been so high this year.

The A’s inked him to a 1 year/$6 million deal: a rather large investment for a pitcher who’s had quite the roller-coaster ride through the big-leagues and the minors.

“There’s no reason why he can’t repeat those four starts [in 2015] and turn it into 10, 15, 20,” A’s Pitching Coach Curt Young told “He’s got that kind of talent.”

At the ripe age of 36, Hill seems to have finally found his groove. He’s pitching with ease, confidence, and poise.

The time that Hill has left is unknown, and his chance for continued success remains to be seen. But there’s one thing that’s certain: despite all the hardship and the injuries and the inconsistencies, Rich Hill has finally reached his prime at the age of 36.

The great Satchel Paige once said “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?”

Paige played until he was 59 years old.

No one may ever reach Paige’s eternal ability to play. But you never know: the Baseball Fountain of Youth could be in Oakland.

And Rich Hill could be drinking from it.

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