DUNEDIN — On a back field at the Phillies’ spring complex, Aaron Hill dipped his big toe into the waters of spring training, more than satisfied with the result.
Still recovering from a mild quad strain in his right leg, Hill led off the first and second innings and played second base for half an inning in a B game between the Blue Jays and Phils.
He flied out to centre in the first, cleanly handled an easy chance in the field in the bottom of the inning and bounced a ground-rule double over the fence in left-centre into a stiff 30 km/h wind in the second off pitcher Drew Naylor to end his spring debut.
Under normal circumstances the double would have easily gone out of the park.
“That was all I had,” said Hill with a smile of his double. “I’m not gonna lie. It was a strong wind but it felt good to get it on the barrel.”
Hill and the Jays are going to proceed carefully. He’ll next appear on Friday in a game at St. Petersburg between a split-squad of Jays against the Canadian junior team.
“I’ll play again Friday against Canada and probably have some 16-year-old strike me out,” said Hill. “We’re taking it slow. But it was good to get out there.”
Prior to feeling the tightness in his leg during running drills about 10 days ago, Hill already had taken a lot of swings to begin what he hopes will be a bounce-back season, so he’s confident it won’t take him long, once this injury is fully healed, to be season-ready.
“I didn’t really get after it too much,” Hill said. “The day you feel at 100%, you’ll still take it easy for a few days after that and make sure nothing (bad) happens. It’s not 100% yet. It’s not going to take too long but we’re just being cautious.”
Hill had barely touched second base when a pinch-runner came out of the Toronto dugout to end his day.
“(The coaching staff) had that planned,” he said. “But I don’t think they planned on me hitting a double, though.”
Hill was asked what he needs to tell himself to keep this down time in perspective.
“ ‘Don’t be stupid.It’s spring training’,” he replied. “It’s feeling good, but I’m not going to say I’ll be able to go a full game tomorrow.”
This is the voice of experience talking, from a man who lost about six months of his life to an injury he initially thought was a one-day thing. That was three years ago when he suffered a concussion that persisted through the last four months of the season and into the off-season. He has learned never to take anything for granted.
“The main thing for me is to stay healthy,” he said. “I spent most of the winter in California working with a trainer and I lost about five pounds, but I feel like a got stronger.”
After his comeback season of 2009, when he hit .286 with 36 home runs and 108 RBIs, Hill plummeted to a .205 batting average, 26 homers and 68 RBIs last season.
“It was a very disappointing season but, now that it’s behind me, I know I’m going to grow and learn more from that experience than I have from any of the years when things went well.
“I’ve never been a big opposite-field hitter. In my good years, I’ve been able to take my hits to right but I didn’t have as many of those (in 2010). I was way too wide open at the plate and when, I tried to do things to correct it, I kept making it worse.
“It tested me mentally.”
So, this quad injury, while it continues to be minor in nature and gets better every day, is something Hill wants to deal with now and not let linger. Last season, he suffered a hamstring pull on opening day and some of his problems, both in the field and at the plate, can be traced to that injury.
“There’s lots of time to get this dealt with. I’m not necessarily a guy who needs a lot of at-bats to feel like I’m ready. My swing’s pretty simple.”
So is his goal.
“I’m not going to forget what happened last season,” he said. “I’m going to learn from it.”