Hill won't be ready to start season
Lefty will need time to build up pitch count after elbow soreness
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Time finally ran out on the Rich Hill shot clock Sunday.
Hill, who has been battling a case of elbow soreness for weeks, threw a positive batting-practice session against live hitters but was ruled out for Opening Day by Orioles pitching coach Rick Kranitz. The southpaw will likely start the season on the disabled list and will point toward a healthy return in the second week of April.
Hill, who was acquired from the Cubs in February in exchange for a player to be named, was held away from doing any mound work for the first month of Spring Training. The left-hander was recently able to progress to bullpen sessions and faced hitters for the first time Sunday, but he was facing an uphill challenge.
Kranitz said it was just too much to expect that Hill would be ready for regular-season games with only one or two Spring Training starts under his belt. Now, it's all about bringing Hill along at a normal pace.
"He's got to get built up," said Kranitz, who's known Hill for years. "The thing is, it's not like a reliever where you can throw three or four times in one week. That's not the case. Now we have to build him to 90 or 100 pitches. That's a process, so we just have to take it day-by-day and outing-by-outing and see where we're at."
The Orioles are planning on giving Hill some game action in Wednesday's intrasquad game, and after that, he'd have just 10 days before the regular-season opener. Baltimore will likely send Hill to extended spring camp at the club's Minor League complex in Sarasota, Fla., when the team heads north for the season.
Right now, the buzzword is caution. Hill dealt with back spasms for much of last season and struggled to a 2-4 record with a 5.88 ERA for Triple-A Iowa. The Orioles want him to get healthy and get comfortable, which means allowing him to take as much time as he needs to be ready for the regular season.
"It's not discouraging, just with all of the things that have happened," said Hill of his timetable to pitch in big league games. "Right now, where I'm at, I feel like I could. We'll just see where we go from here."
Baltimore had been counting on Hill to fill out the third spot in the rotation behind staff ace Jeremy Guthrie and free-agent acquisition Koji Uehara. Now, the Orioles are likely looking at veterans Danys Baez and Adam Eaton starting the season in the rotation, with Mark Hendrickson filling a swingman role until Hill is ready.
Despite the news about his pace, both Hill and Kranitz said that Sunday's batting-practice session was a net positive.
"Today was probably the best day, by far, I think," said Hill. "Everything carried over from the bullpen. I threw a lot of strikes, threw good fastballs, good curveballs [and] good changeups. Everything was in sync."
"I couldn't be happier with the way Rich threw the ball today," added Kranitz. "The ball's coming out good. We're going to shoot for the intrasquad game and give him an inning or two there just to get him introduced to game situations. He threw the ball well. Now it's just a matter of getting him built up. We'll see."
Hill, who is out of options, said that he feels the Orioles are a good fit for him. He has said all along that he feels comfortable working with Kranitz and manager Dave Trembley, both of whom share a common background in the Cubs' organization. And now, he just needs to get his arm ready to rejoin his teammates.
"I feel right now that I'm not too far off," said Hill moments after leaving the practice field at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. "We'll just go from here and take the next step, get in games, and whatever it needs to be."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.