Rich Hill: Body, Mind, Spirit

Ask West Tenn left-hander Rich Hill, who currently leads Minor League Baseball with 77 strikeouts, what his recipe for success has been and the answer might surprise you.                                                            

"A lot of it has to do with the mental side of things, which I've really tapped into this year," said Hill, 4-2 with a 2.96 ERA in nine starts for Double-A West Tenn. "I credit most of the success I'm having now to that.

"There's a book called Thinking Body, Dancing Mind (Taosports for Extraordinary Performance in Athletics, Business, and Life, published by Bantam New Age Books). It's a spiritual book for the most part. I don't really get into that particular side of it, but I use the information in the book and transfer it onto the field."

Last year at Class High-A Daytona, Hill led the Florida State League with 72 walks. This year, he has decreased the walk totals significantly through his first nine starts, averaging 3.5 per nine innings—down from almost six per nine innings a year ago.

"This year, I have been more consistent with being able to throw the ball from the same release point every time," Hill said. "Last year, I was struggling with my release point a lot during the second half. As soon as I got done figuring that out, I felt like I had new life."

Hill has had much success at the friendly confines of West Tenn's Pringles Park. There he has recorded 48 of his 77 strikeouts and posted a 1.44 ERA in five starts with a 4-0 record.

"The park itself can be pitcher-friendly," Hill explains. "At the same time, it also depends on how the wind is blowing. The balls will carry out."

Hill's only rough outing this year was an April 15 start at Chattanooga. He gave up eight runs and 10 hits in four innings. Erase that start and Hill has a minuscule 1.72 ERA for the year.

"I've been pitching pretty well on the road," Hill said. "That one start (in Chattanooga) where I got hit around, it wasn't from a lack of stuff that day. I was continuously one pitch away from getting guys out. I gave up seven of those runs to guys that I was 0-2 or 1-2 on. I just didn't finish guys off, so I had to learn from it."

Hill currently boasts a K/9 ratio of 13.5. For the Boston native, high strikeout totals are not an overnight success.

Last year, Hill led Daytona with 136 K's, good for fourth in the Florida State League. It's not that the strikeouts are new for Hill, but the way he now goes about them is.

"I've been consistently throwing more pitches for strikes all year," Hill said. "I'm now throwing four different pitches for strikes. I have good command of my fastball, and that was something I couldn't say last year ... it just wasn't there."

Hill also acknowledges the presence of Diamond Jaxx Pitching Coach Alan Dunn as a key to his success.

"Alan and all of the guys in Spring Training have helped me out tremendously," said Hill. "With the good consistency I'm having with the fastball and curveball and putting hitters away, those things – plus getting ahead early in the count – are proven ways to get guys out. When I get them 1-2 or 0-2, it's only natural that I'm looking to strike them out."

With the success Hill is having at Double-A, there's always the inevitable - and sometimes tiring - talk of a promotion. But the Michigan alumnus says it's something that he is taking one day at a time.

"I'm here to pitch in Tennessee," Hill said. "I'm not looking forward; I'm just taking the old ‘one day at a time' approach. I started off really well at Daytona and then did that to myself. And I think if (the promotion) doesn't happen, you get disappointed. It'll work as a negative toward my progress."

With the success Hill has had this year, he realizes the importance of not getting caught up in all of the hype.

"I haven't gotten caught up in any of it, because the next outing could be as bad as the last one was good," Hill said. "You just have to stay even keel. You're only as good as you are in the moment."

Not that Hill worries about his confidence dropping if he has a bad outing.

"After that start in Chattanooga, I think getting hit around was a good thing," Hill admitted. "I think if you get caught up in losing, and you're worried about the next outing and all of the things that you can't control, it's probably going to come out the way that your mind has already pre-determined things. If you can control yourself with a positive attitude, the results will be there."

The Jaxx, 33-12 and atop the Southern League, currently have the basic two catchers on their roster: switch-hitting Jose Reyes, and Casey Kopitzke. Hill has worked with both this year, as well as former West Tenn catcher Paul O'Toole, who is now at Daytona after a slow start at Double-A. He says he has no preference as to who catches him.

"That's something I can't control just yet," Hill said. "When it comes to personal favorites, there isn't one. All of them have done a great job no matter who is behind the plate."

Hill went four innings in his last start on May 22 at Birmingham. He allowed three runs and five hits to go with four strikeouts and four walks for his first loss since the aforementioned April 15 start against the Lookouts.

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