After rushing to get to Milwaukee from Syracuse before Wednesday’s afternoon game, Taylor Hill had a feeling he would get into the game. And once Stephen Strasburg began to struggle, his pitch count rising in the fifth inning, the bullpen phone rang and Hill started warming up.
With two outs in the inning, Hill ran out to a major league mound in a game for the first time in his life. Only a year ago, before he shot through the minor leagues, he began the minor league season at Class A Potomac. Now he was in Milwaukee for his major league debut, pressed into action because the Nationals’ bullpen was spent.
Hill met Manager Matt Williams on the mound and was handed the game ball. Shortstop Ian Desmond asked Hill how he was doing and offered encouragement. “It was nice knowing those guys had my back,” Hill said. “That was cool.”
With five pitches, Hill squeezed out of the jam he inherited and jogged into the dugout. The starter fired three more innings, allowing two runs on five hits and walking one. He induced five groundouts and struck out one. And more importantly, he did his job of sparing the rest of bullpen from more work.
“It was something I’ll never forget,” he said. “It was awesome. Just pitching in front of that crowd and being able to do that was something special. I’ll never forget.”
The same way Hill received the news of his call-up at 2 a.m. that morning and rushed to Milwaukee, Hill’s parents did the same. They tried to find a flight from Nashville to Milwaukee but couldn’t. So they flew into Chicago and drove to Milwaukee in time to see Hill pitch. They may not have seen Hill’s first pitch, but they at least saw their son make his debut. Hill saw them after the game, a huge grin across his face when he spoke with reporters.
“I think they tried to hold it together for me but I think they were a mess earlier on,” he said. “It was cool. I hadn’t seen them in a couple months. That was cool.”
On the mound, Hill relies on control and a quick pace. He threw 52 pitches, his fastball command not as sharp as he wanted. He allowed two runs in the sixth inning on a walk and four hits, including a swinging bunt single by Carlos Gomez. But in the seventh and eighth innings, Hill regrouped and used his low 90s fastball, slider and curveball to get groundballs. Against left-handers, he even used his change-up, a pitch he has worked to improve.
Back in the clubhouse, he had five baseballs saved in boxes in his locker. Three were game balls, one was the first pitch and the other from his first strikeout, keepsakes from a joyous day. Later in the day, Hill watched his beloved former university, Vanderbilt, defeat Virginia to win the College World Series. June 25 is a day Hill may soon not forget.
“He didn’t get any sleep last night,” Williams said. “Got here [Wednesday] morning and went through everything with regard to the signs. He went out there and pitched. He threw a lot of pitches. It’s okay. He’d been used to that. He was excited. Different circumstance it could be a better day for him. He was excited to be here.”
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Richmond 6, Harrisburg 2: Brian Dupra allowed four runs on six hits over five innings. Neil Holland and Robert Benincasa each allowed one. Quincy Latimore and Rick Hague each drove in a run.
Potomac 7, Myrtle Beach 4: Blake Schwartz allowed one run over five innings. Ian Dickson gave up three runs over 2 1/3 innings. Mike McQuillan hit his first home run. Tony Renda went 2 for 5 with two RBI. Estarlin Martinez drove in two runs.