Rich Hill Credits Strength-Building Program for Transformation From Broken-Down Starter to Reliable Reliever

Rich Hill Credits Strength-Building Program for Transformation From Broken-Down Starter to Reliable Reliever Red Sox left-hander Rich Hill is now fully engrossed in a “second career” after being called up last week.

Since he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2002, Hill served primarily as a starter for the better part of eight years. He found plenty of success, peaking in 2007, when he went 11-8 with a 3.92 ERA in 32 starts for the Cubs.

However, physical issues became a problem after that. In 2008, Hill went to the disabled list four times with back and calf problems. The next year, after signing with Baltimore, he had left elbow and left shoulder ailments that limited him to a 3-3 record and a 7.80 ERA in 14 games.

In a lot of ways, it was back to the drawing board. Hill’s value as a starter had gone south, but he knew he still could offer something to some teams if he could alter his role and become a quality lefty out of the bullpen, a highly coveted commodity in the majors.

To accomplish that feat, adjustments needed to be made, including several on the physical front. Hill began to alter his offseason workouts, knowing he needed to be stronger to avoid injury.

“The last couple of offseasons, the workload has increased to build strength,” said Hill, a native of Milton, Mass., and currently a South Boston resident.

Hill started working out at Mike Boyle‘s facility in Woburn. The program he established there has paid off in a big way — Hill stresses that he feels better than he ever did as a starter, and he seems to have found a home in the Red Sox bullpen.

“The last three offseasons for me, it’s made a huge difference as far as putting weight on, muscle, being strong throughout the season,” Hill said. “Last year was my first year that I was really fully healthy, and I maintained that strength throughout the whole season, and a lot of that had to do with the work I put in in the offseason.”

Achieving peak performance can be difficult when the body is weak.

“After an injury, and especially after several injuries, it would be a good idea to examine your workout to make sure its well-rounded and not overstressing one part of the body,” said Kathy Shillue, DPT, OCS, clinical services manager of outpatient rehabilitation services at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

“A well-rounded program will have components of strength, flexibility and conditioning. Even if your workout is more for recreation than competition, a lack of flexibility or strength in one area can cause you to move inefficiently and force you to compensate at other joints, and can be a major factor in repetitive injuries,” she added.

Anyone who works out or plays regularly should remember that strengthening sessions shouldn’t be done every day.

“Muscles need a couple of days recovery time to become stronger, so adding a strength training component can be done two days per week and help to vary the normal routine,” Shillue advised.

Hill, who is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 10 games since joining the Red Sox last year, begins his offseason work much sooner than he did as a starter, and his workouts during the season have been altered as well. For one, he used to lift weights the day after every start. With bullpen work more sporadic and unpredictable, he has to pick and choose his spots.

Essentially, the cerebral Hill has recognized what he needs to do to be prepared for his new role, and to sustain it throughout a long season. The remaining mission is to ensure longevity. At 31, Hill is not old, by baseball standards. But taking extra steps to be in tip-top shape is critical for a guy who has toed the line between the minors and majors for a few years now, in large part because of his health.

Those extra steps sound simple, but in a lifestyle such as that of a big league ballplayer, it’s easier said than done.

“I think just having a consistent routine is one thing that helps out a lot,” Hill said. “Making sure that you’re handling your business off the field as well as on the field. You want to make sure you are getting enough rest, eating right. All those things are huge, and I’ve learned those over the last couple of years, seeing how much of a difference it can make.

“There’s plenty of time to do other things after baseball. There’s a lot stuff that goes on, especially at this level, a lot of opportunities to probably go to events and get away from on-the-field stuff, which sometimes is great. … but only once in awhile. Can’t be doing that all the time. It’ll just run you down, and the next thing you know, you’re out of a job.”

Because of some alterations in his exercise routine over the years, Hill is not.

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