Rich Hill stood on the mound at Bethpage Ballpark just last month, wearing his orange No. 32 jersey with "Ducks" across the chest. He brought around his left arm and struck out 14 Camden Riversharks in six innings, tying the franchise record.
On Monday, he stood alone at his locker stall at Yankee Stadium, his road gray No. 62 Red Sox jersey hanging beside him. He is scheduled to start against the Yankees Thursday night.
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Hill signed with the Ducks of the independent Atlantic League on July 28 after being released out of Triple-A by the Nationals, a 35-year-old pitcher bent on proving he could start again after mostly relieving dating to 2010. He did it with two scoreless outings. The Red Sox signed Hill on Aug. 10, sent him to Triple-A and called him up Sept. 8.StoryFormer Duck Hill strikes out 10 for Red SoxStoryFormer LI Duck Hill strong for Red Sox
And they're glad they did. His fastball/curveball combo has led to a 2-0 record with a 1.17 ERA, 30 strikeouts and two walks in three starts, including a two-hit shutout of the Orioles. So Hill looks back with appreciation for his two weeks as a Duck.
"To get that opportunity to pitch [as a starter] in Long Island, I'm obviously very thankful for that," Hill said. "The people there were great. That was a first-class organization."
Red Sox interim manager Torey Lovullo appreciates this tale of reinvention.
"Three outstanding starts later, we have nothing but the highest expectations for him in this next start," he said. "It's a great story. We all know the story. Because of all that, he's so easy to root for."
There's even more to this story. In February 2014, Hill and his wife, Caitlin, lost 2-month-old son Brooks to multiple brain malformations and kidney issues.
"It was a very difficult time," Hill said. "We're doing really well right now. I think looking back on it, going to spring training [with the Red Sox in 2014], being around down in Florida with my wife and my son [Brice], helped us a lot to come together as a family and realize what's important in life. That's family and friends."
The 6-5, 220-pound Hill first came up with the Cubs in 2005. His best season came two years later: 32 starts, 11-8 record, 3.92 ERA.
This was his third time signing with Boston, the team he rooted for when he was growing up in Massachusetts. He also has been with the Orioles, Indians, Angels and Yankees, posting a 1.69 ERA in 14 relief outings for Joe Girardi in the second half of last season.
"We had always seen him as a reliever, and to do what he has done is quite impressive," Girardi said.
Hill, who has overcome operations on his shoulder (2009) and elbow (2011), isn't sure if he will return to the Red Sox at this point.
"I just want to stay a starter," Hill said. "I enjoy it. I think it's something that I've always loved doing. I finally feel healthy enough and strong enough to be back starting again."