After tossing back-to-back outings in Pawtucket, Rich Hill marched one step closer to making his return to the majors after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
In nine rehab outings in the minors, the 32-year-old has stifled batters, who are hitting just 5-for-32 against him.
Boston's bullpen could benefit from Hill's upcoming return more than ever. Just four days after crumbling against the Yankees, the Red Sox' relievers struggled again, allowing five runs in the sixth inning of Wednesday's 7-6 victory over the Twins.
When reporters in Minnesota asked Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine about a timetable for Hill's return, Valentine said "very soon." Although the bullpen rebounded in the last three innings, the team could still benefit from Hill's boost after another scare versus the Twins.
As Clay Buchholz exited with the bases loaded and a 7-1 lead, Scott Atchison — who owned the lowest ERA of the relievers — allowed his two inherited runners to score when Joe Mauer smacked his slider for a single.
It started the merry-go-round of relievers. Following Atchison's sequence against Mauer, lefty Justin Thomas continued his shaky string of performances, yielding an RBI to Trevor Plouffe that sliced the deficit to one-run.
Although the rest of the Red Sox relievers preserved the lead, the need for Hill has been amplified. He'll bolster the bullpen with a left-handed presence. And considering his brief track record with the Red Sox, Hill can be effective.
Through 12 innings – from 2010 to 2011 – in a Red Sox uniform, Hill hasn't allowed a single run. In the process, he's only surrendered eight hits and fanned 15 batters.
It's a small sample size, but his quick ascension is promising. During his stints in Greenville and Salem, the southpaw struck out 13 batters through six innings and notched multiple strikeouts in each minor league appearance except Tuesday's stint.
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