KANSAS CITY, CHICAGO, OTHER CITIES (8-18-2018) -- Pitching for a team that is 32 1/2 games out of first place, is dead last in the Major Leagues in runs scored and has been unable to give him much support at the plate, Palomar product Tim Hill still continues to perform at a high level in his rookie Major League season.
Hill, KC's submarine relief pitcher, was one of four ex-Comets on Major League opening-day 25-man rosters in March, along with veterans Nick Vincent of the Seattle Mariners, Tyler Saladino of the Chicago White Sox (who since has been sold to the Milwaukee Brewers) and James Hoyt of the defending World Series champion Houston Astros (since then traded to the Cleveland Indians).
Hill came out of the bullpen to make his MLB debut on opening day, and from then through Saturday, Aug. 18, manager Ned Yost has gone to him 54 times. Usually, Yost has gone to him in what has been a crucial short-relief situation, with the game on the line or setting the Royals up with an opportunity to win the game.
Hill, who saw his streak of 13 straight games after the All-Star break without giving up a run go by the boards on Friday night, rebounded Saturday evening in Chicago when he came on with one out and a runner on base in the seventh inning and struck out the only two batters he faced, Yoan Moncada looking and Yolomer Sanchez swinging, to preserve a 2-1 Royals lead.
Kansas City went on to win 3-1 as Hill registered his 11th hold of the season and lowered his earned run average to 4.95. He has now allowed one run in 14 appearances after the All-Star break and has struck out 35 batters in 36 1/3 innings pitched.
Most of the time Hill has come through in keeping the Royals in the game, most recently this week on Wednesday, when he came on to pitch the eighth inning for the Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, mowing down the Toronto Blue Jays 1-2-3 and getting three consecutive ground outs on just seven pitches to keep the Royals in the game as they trailed Toronto 6-4. The Jays lost 6-5, scoring a run in the bottom of the ninth but coming up a run short.
On this past Sunday, Aug. 12, he came in with the bases loaded in the top of the seventh inning, the Royals ahead of the visiting St. Louis Cardinals 2-1, and no one out and got the only batter he faced to hit into a fielder's choice grounder to get the runner from third out at the plate -- only missing a double play because no one covered first base. The Cardinals eventually won, but Hill did his job to temporarily keep Kansas City in the lead.
And on Tuesday, April 14, he again kept the Royals in a one-run game, this time against the Blue Jays, coming out of the pen to pitch the top of the ninth inning with the Royals down by a run 6-5. Hill took only eight pitches to retire the Jays in order on three consecutive ground balls. That set up Kansas City up either tie the game or win it in the bottom of the ninth, but as in most of the time the Royals' hitters could not deliver and the Blue Jays held on to win 6-5.
Hill's earned run average is deceiving. He has allowed all of his earned runs in just 5 2/3 innings pitched. For the remainder of the 35 2/3 innings he has thrown during the season, his ERA is 0.00. The former Comet did not give up a hit in his first seven major league appearances back in March and April, and in 12 appearances between April 30 and May 30 he allowed only one earned run on six hits.
In his appearance against the New York Yankees back on Saturday, July 28, in the first game of the Royals' double-header against the before 46,571 fans at Yankee Stadium, Hill came up big for Kansas City. KC led 6-5 with two outs in the top of the sixth inning, the tying run on third base and the lead run on first base when Yost went to Hill. And the 6-foot-2, 210-pound left-hander responded with a clutch performance.
Hill was summoned to face a left-handed hitter, Tyler Wade, called up from Triple-A to replace the injured Aaron Judge New York's active roster. Yankees manager Aaron Boone countered by bringing in right-handed Miguel Andujar, the Yanks' sometimes clean-up batter, as a pinch-hitter.
Hill went strike, strike, ball, foul on his first four pitches to Andujar, then struck him out on the following pitch to get the Royals out of the inning with the one-run lead intact. He recorded his eighth hold when KC scored four late runs and went on to win 10-5.
He pitched in relief for Royals in three of their four games of the series, on Thursday, July 26, two, days later and on get-away day that Sunday. In that game, Hill threw 2/3 of an inning in a game the Yankees held on to win 6-3 before a crowd of 46,192.
In that Thursday's game in front of a 37,036 at Yankee Stadium, Hill came on to face face Brett Gardner, like Andujar one of the Yankees' most dangerous hitters, with two outs in the fifth inning and runners at first and third. He struck out Gardner to end the inning and help keep the game from getting out of hand early even though the Yanks went on to beat the Royals.
After a vicious but ultimately successful battle with cancer that sidelined him during his second minor league season (see link above), when he lost 70 pounds to drop from 220 pounds to 150 pounds, Hill made the jump from the Royals' Double-A Northwest Arkansas farm club in 2017 to their big-league team this past March when he won a spot on the 25-man roster to begin the season. He then pitched in KC's opening game.
Hill appeared in 39 games during the first half of the season, more than Vincent's entire rookie full-season total (at the time with the Padres with 27 appearances in 2012), Hoyt's entire rookie full-season total with the Houston Astros (22 in 2016) and ex-Comet Marcus Hatley's only season (2 games with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015).
Hill, with his 39 appearances before the break, also surpassed the late right-handed submariner Dan Quisenberry's 32 total-season appearances as a rookie for the Royals in 1979. Quisenberry, another California community college product (out of Orange Coast College), who passed away in 1998 from cancer, is still remembered as one of the best relievers in baseball history and pitched the Royals to the 1985 World Series championship.
The Royals have kept Hill, a fan favorite in Kansas City and one of the few bright spots during a rebuilding year, on their Major League roster all season, something virtually unheard of in today's big-league climate in which relievers with options remaining are constantly shuffled back and forth between the Majors and Double-A or Triple A depending on the big-league club's needs.
If Hill remains on the club's Major League roster all season, he will become the highest-paid rookie among all the Palomar products, both pitchers and position players, who have played in the big leagues with a salary of $545,000.
The way Hill continues to perform, remaining on the Royals' big-league roster all season appears to be a given.
Among the other former Comets on 25-man rosters, Vincent continues to be utilized out of the bullpen for the Mariners in his seventh Major League season and is the highest-salaried former Comet ever to play in the big leagues, either on the mound or at a position (currently $2.75 million a year).
In four seasons with the Padres and two-plus seasons with the Mariners, Vincent has a 19-15 record out of the bullpen with four saves, making 327 appearances with a 3.17 ERA and 305 strikeouts and 77 walks over 309 1/3 innings.
Vincent was selected as the Mariners' 2017 Relief Pitcher of the Year, and the Seattle chapter of Baseball Writers Association of America honored him with their "Unsung Hero" award. He was second in the Major Leagues in holds and, from May 14 to Sept. 4, he appeared in 44 games and allowed just six earned runs in 40 innings pitched for a 1.35 ERA.
"For a long time he was probably the MVP of our team with where our starting pitching was," Mariners Manager Scott Servais said. "When we got in close games, and had a chance to win them, we were winning them. and a lot of that had to do with Nick Vincent."
The award is given to the player who "contributes on the field without fanfare, and handles himself off the field with non-field staff members, teammates, fans and media".
During the 2018 season, he is 3-2 with 32 strikeouts and 10 walks for 33 2/3 innings in 38 relief appearances. He allowed only only one earned run in his previous nine games before the Angels and the Houston Astros got to him for four earned runs in back-to-back appearances on July 29 in Anaheim and August 1 in Seattle. Vincent came back on Friday, August 3, to throw a scoreless inning in relief vs. the Toronto Blue Jays in Seattle.
Saladino started with a bang as the Milwaukee Brewers' regular shortstop after coming off the disabled list on July 5 and he hit .421 in the Brewers' last five games going into the All-Star Break. Since being sold from the White Sox, where he saw only limited action playing in only six games from March 31 through April 18 to open the season, to Milwaukee on April 19, Saladino had batted .303 with eight multiple-hit games leading up to the break.
He also hit safely in the first two games of a series against the Dodgers at Miller Field in Milwaukee as the Brewers won the to begin the the second half of the season before losing the final game of the series on Sunday. He's hit four home runs (including an inside-the-park HR on May 14, see link to video above) while playing his usual spectacular defense.
He contributed two hits in each of four of the Brewers' last five games before the All-Star Break, on July 12, July 13, July 14 in the first game of a doubleheader, and July 15.
Saladino has also played third base and as of July 28 is batting .276. But as of Wednesday, August 1, his role with the second-place club in the National League Central Division (behind the Chicago Cubs) is uncertain after the Brewers aquired one of their former stars, Mike Moustakas, from the Royals, installed him at third base and re-installed Orlando Arcia, a .196 hitter, as their for-the-present starting shortstop. On August 1, Milwaukee again optioned Saladino back to Triple-A Colorado Springs.
The Brewers initially optioned Saladino to Colorado Springs after they purchased his contract from the White Sox so he could see live pitching again after the Sox left him rotting on the bench for almost a month at the beginning of the season. After Saladino's short stay in Colorado Springs, Milwaukee called him up to their big-league club, then quickly inserted him in the starting line-up.
Saladino hit .282 in 2016 as he started regularly for the third straight season for the White Sox, before a 2017 back injury curtailed his ability to swing the bat properly. When the injury didn't heal properly the Sox unloaded him after he got only eight at-bats through April 20 of this year.
Saladino is best known for his versatility in playing spectacular defense on the Major League level at every position except pitcher and catcher He was a regular starter for the White Sox at one time or another at short, second base and third base in 2015, 2016 and part of 2017 before the persistent back injury badly curtailed his offensive production and landed him on the bench, then the DL and, eventually gone from Chicago to Milwaukee.
Rick Renteria was hired by the Sox as their new manager when the club fired Robin Ventura on October 3, 2016. Ventura, an all-time great White Sox player from 1989 through 1998 who had been the club's manager since 2012, had been Saladino's only big league manager and was known as a "Saladino guy". But Renteria, who ironically had been a frequent visitor to Palomar games when his son played for the Comets, never warmed up to Saladino.
Then Saladino hurt his back. Exit Saladino.
Saladino was the 2009 Pacific Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year and a community college All-American starring at shortstop at Palomar. He was drafted in the seventh round by the White Sox after his Summit League Player of the Year junior season at Division I Oral Roberts University and was an instant success when he landed in the starting lineup for the White Sox after being called up to the Major Leagues in 2015.
Hoyt, who began the season with a $567,000 projected salary, pitched only one-third of an inning for the Astros this season before an injury landed him on the disabled list. When he came off the D.L. the Astros optioned him to Fresno of the Pacific Coast League, where he had led all Triple A pitchers in saves before he made Houston's Major League roster. After the trade to Cleveland, he currently is pitching for the Indians' Triple-A club at Columbus, Ohio.
The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Hoyt originally came to Palomar from Boise, Idaho and later moved on to Centenary College of Louisiana, which at the time was a Division I school. He owns a 4.40 career Major League ERA with 94 strikeouts for 71 2/3 innings pitched, the first 72 1/3 innings with the Astros from 2016 through last season. He earned a World Series championship ring for the 2017 Astros although he did not pitch in the post-season.