WASHINGTON—It’s hard to believe that Rich Hill was also a National. Hill, the Game 2 starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers pitched for the Nationals’ Triple-A Syracuse team in 2015.
Last year was the year that Hill actually dropped out of organized ball and landed in Independent ball.
Before the Long Island Ducks. Before the late season resurrection in Boston, there was Syracuse.
Hill, who at 36 may be one of the hottest talents on an incredibly thin free agent market, could have been a National.
No bitterness, no regret.
“A great organization. Enjoyed the time that we had here in spring training, the guys here in spring training. Just the camaraderie that they had, the intensity of Max Scherzer, watching him prepare during spring training,” Hill remembers.
"I'll talk about Syracuse. But the selflessness of a Tanner Roark -- this is going back to last year, how many games did he win in '14? 15, right? And he goes in the bullpen, and there were 29 other teams that said, we'll put him in the rotation.”
Hill, who spoke before Friday’s Game 1, sounds as if he’s still with the Nationals as he lauds his former teammates.
“But to have guys that will put their own accolades aside or, not so much careers, but they will sacrifice certain things for the team, that's what I saw. There was a very good team environment.”
With the Chiefs, Hill whose big league career began in 2005 and included stops with the Cubs, Orioles, two with the Red Sox, Indians, Angels, Yankees and Athletics, went 2-2 with a 2.91 ERA in 25 relief appearances.
“We had some older veteran guys that were on that team that weren't complaining about, well, I should be in the big leagues. You get kind of that mix when you're in Triple-A. But it was not so there, and that had a lot to do with the coaching staff. Those guys there were great,” Hill said.
Hill exercised his opt-out at Syracuse because he didn’t see a place for him on the Nationals.
“I told them I was going to take my release and they said, ‘Well, we'll give you an extra week to find another job if you would like. I just didn't see it working out here in Washington. You know, players have outs in their contracts that are mutual to say, you know, if you would like to go somewhere else, if you think it would work out somewhere else, you've earned the right, so be it, best of luck both ways. So that had happened.
“Would have liked to have seen it work out here, sure, no doubt, because of everything that was going on in spring training, like I had said before, just the guys on the team, it was made of a team, a team, a group of guys that everybody was pulling for each other.”
After his opt-out, Hill was at home for a month, and went to Long Island for two starts. He impressed the Red Sox, and a year later he’s facing the team that he so admires.