Jays can't offer Hill triumphant return to Majors
Canadian native's long-awaited comeback ends in loss vs. Texas
TORONTO -- It was special in its own way for Shawn Hill to return to the Major Leagues in his hometown.
But it was more important for Hill to reestablish himself as a pitcher somewhere, anywhere, after a pair of Tommy John surgeries. He had not pitched in the Majors since April 2009 when he was with the Padres.
The Mississauga, Ontario, native took a big step in the right direction Thursday with a promising outing despite taking a 4-2 loss to the Rangers before 10,658 at Rogers Centre, a crowd that included his family and friends.
The right-hander allowed four runs (three earned), eight hits and two walks over 5 1/3 innings as the Rangers gained a split of the four-game series.
"He pitched real well," said Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston. "If he can go out there and have those kind of outings, he can win some ballgames."
Colby Lewis (10-12) got the win, striking out eight over 6 1/3 innings while holding the Blue Jays to one run, two walks and five hits -- including Lyle Overbay's 18th homer of the season to lead off the seventh. Jose Bautista hit his Major League-leading 44th homer of the season with two outs in the eighth against Darren O'Day, but that was all Toronto was able to put forth for the hometown hero.
"Overall, it wasn't terrible," Hill said. "All things considered, it was OK."
But his fastball didn't have the sink he would like, although it had some run to it. Too many of Hill's pitches were between the thigh and the belt -- not ideal location.
Hill hardly used his curveball, which is his third pitch. And even the third-inning changeup that caught Michael Young reaching into an inning-ending double play wasn't quite to his liking.
"My stuff wasn't very good," Hill said.
But it was a start that Hill needed to get out of the way, to get rid of the anxiety so that he can get on with his comeback and settle into pitching.
"Hopefully, this was just kind of getting my feet wet," he said. "I wasn't very nervous, I thought I would be. I was pretty calm, but a little anxious. A little amped up, I think. A little excited, but not very nervous."
Hill worked out of his first jam nicely with a strikeout and a double-play grounder to short after loading the bases with no outs in the third.
Bengie Molina and Andres Blanco opened the frame with singles and Julio Borbon placed a bunt single down the third-base line. But Hill rebounded to strike out Ian Kinsler and induce the double play from Young.
"When I got that jam, I was kind of locked in a little more," Hill said. "Changeup down and away, and it was just off enough that [Young] just had to go fishing for it. Again, it wasn't that great of a pitch, but it was just set up for him."
The Rangers scored twice in the fourth, with one of the runs unearned. Vladimir Guerrero singled and Nelson Cruz doubled with one out in the sixth, ending Hill's night after 85 pitches. Left-hander Jesse Carlson came in and his only batter, Mitch Moreland, hit a two-run double to right that completed Hill's line and sealed the Jays' fate.
"He pitched good enough to win," Gaston said. "We just came up a little bit short on the offense, and certainly we did not play good defense, either."
Hill earned his first Major League victory on July 4, 2004, against the Blue Jays in Puerto Rico as a member of the Expos. It was the final game played between the teams. He had his first Tommy John surgery later that year, and he has since pitched for the Nationals and the Padres.
Hill signed a Minor League contract with the Blue Jays and was 6-2 with a 1.61 ERA in 11 starts, finishing at Triple-A Las Vegas, where he last pitched Sept. 4. In that start, Hill said he had the best movement on his fastball since his comeback began, movement he wished he had on Thursday.
"But I was relaxed, and it was a different environment and all that kind of stuff," Hill said. "I'm hoping I'll get right back to that my next start."
Hill admitted that making his big league return might be special coming in his hometown, but it was going to be important no matter where he made his return.
"Just in terms of the hometown, it's a little bit of a boost in that sense," Hill said. "More importantly, I just had to come back. I needed to reestablish myself, whether it was here or in Idaho or Korea. It doesn't matter.
"I need to reestablish myself, period. It will definitely be nice here. But I've got a lot of work to do, regardless of where I'm going to be at."
Larry Millson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.