A left-handed reliever entered spring training with a good bit of job security. After three troubling outings, however, he may have to fight for a spot in the KC Royals’ bullpen.
Conspicuous in the KC Royals’ 9-7 Cactus League victory over San Diego Wednesday was the short, four-batter calamity reliever Tim Hill endured before manager Mike Matheny mercifully ended his afternoon. The troubling performance compounded the shakiness of Hill’s spring work.
For Hill, spring training has taken an unexpected turn, one comprised of three disconcerting outings that could jeopardize what was widely considered a sure spot for him in the Royals’ 2020 bullpen. Although a rough start to last season forced the club to send Hill to Omaha for adjustment, Hill returned to the club and became a reliable bullpen piece during the second half of the season. He finished 2-0 with a 3.63 ERA, 1.109 WHIP and a save in 46 games. Retired manager Ned Yost used Hill in a variety of high leverage situations.
His second half improvement, the Royals’ past faith in him (he appeared in 70 games in 2018) and the fact he’s a rare left-hander among the club’s bullpen candidates, appeared to give Hill a significant leg up in the crowded spring competition for relief jobs.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, however, Hill had accomplished little with his two of the necessarily short appearances Matheny has afforded 39 of the hurlers vying for various roles on the KC pitching staff. He’d surrendered four runs on five hits and two walks in 2.1 innings; although he had three strikeouts, his small-sample ERA was 15.43.
Things worsened against the Padres. Hill took over in the sixth inning with a six run lead but quickly walked Juan Lagares on five pitches and Jake Cronenworth on four, drawing pitching coach Cal Eldred to the mound for a visit to calm Hill, who was visibly frustrated after his second pitch to Cronenworth was well wide of the plate.
After barely avoiding being hit by Hill’s first pitch, Austin Hedges stroked an infield single to load the bases for Taylor Trammell, who laced Hill’s 1-0 offering into the left-center gap for a two-run double. Matheny had seen enough and replaced Hill with Yunior Marte, who allowed two more runs, both chargeable to Hill.
Hill’s spring record, concerning before Wednesday, is now disturbing. In 2.1 innings (because he didn’t get an out against the Padres, he wasn’t credited with even a fraction of a frame), he’s given up eight runs on seven hits and four walks, and his ERA is a mind-jarring 30.86, the worst among KC pitchers with more than one appearance.
Spring training stats are things to be leery of, but Hill’s are trending ominously in the wrong direction and surely concern Matheny more now than they may have before Hill’s Wednesday disaster. The fact Hill had no control or command Wednesday compounds his spring problems; his formerly safe roster spot may now be in peril. Because he has minor league options left, the club may want to consider using one if he doesn’t find his way soon, and starting the season with fellow lefty Randy Rosario, who’s out of options and hasn’t surrendered a run in four games.
Tim Hill can be a reliable bullpen piece for the KC Royals, but he’ll have to right himself before long if he hopes to secure a spot on the club’s Opening Day roster.