Jays skip wants to tap Hill's power potential

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:34 PM ET

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Aaron Hill, slugger.

Who knew?

John Farrell, the new boss man of the Blue Jays, appreciates the home run as much as the next manager and noting that Hill has popped 62 homers the past two years, plans to drop the second baseman into a power slot in the lineup when facing right-handers, the five or six spot. Against lefties, Hill would remain in his customary No. 2 slot.

With Vernon Wells a fading memory after being shipped to the Los Angeles Angels, and catcher John Buck and his 20 homers signed with the Florida Marlins, there’s a bit of a power vacuum in the Jays’ 2011 lineup.

Sure, Jose Bautista figures to bat third or fourth but when you look at it, he’s kind of out there, naked almost, unless he gets some consistent support from the likes of Adam Lind and Hill.

Now in his seventh season with the Jays, Hill had a tremendous breakout season in 2009 when out of nowhere he did a mini Bautista by drilling 36 home runs, more than double his previous high (17).

Last season, in a mostly forgotten season when his average plummeted to an embarrassing .205, Hill still managed to drill 26 homers and 68 runs.

So, Farrell, who wants very much to broaden the Jays offensive approach, will still take the home runs when they come and is looking at Hill to be one of his main suppliers.

In baseball, you take ’em where you can find ’em.

“He’s got power,” Farrell said of Hill prior to Wednesday’s game against the Tampa Rays. “The last two years he’s hit 56 or 58 home runs (actually it’s 62, but who’s counting). To me, that’s a power hitter.

“We’re fortunate to have that kind of power bat to be able to play that position. It gives us some flexibility to look at some different alignments where you’re not so pinned into some of the traditional power slots such as first and third and the corner outfielders.

“The fact that he can swing the bat with authority and have extra-base ability gives us that flexibility to look at those type of things if we want to make a little bit more of a defensive move with some other positions. The fact that he can hit in the middle of the order gives us a lot of flexibility.”

Flexibility such as having Canuck Brett Lawrie, who is having a tremendous camp, open at third? On that, we’ll have to see.

Hill, meanwhile, has yet to appear in a regular scheduled spring training game. Due to an injured right quad, he has been limited to a ‘B’ game and hit in simulated games on Tuesday and Wednesday in Dunedin.

“Later on in the week is our goal,” Farrell said of when Hill is expected to finally make an appearance. “He’s champing at the bit, he feels better but at the same time it’s being prescribed to him to just continue at the pace that we are and we’ll look to be a bit more active later in the week.”

With the Jays at the halfway point of the spring, Hill probably won’t get all the at-bats that Farrell would like to see.

“Ideally you strive to get 50-55 at-bats for all of your front-line guys,” he said. “So as much as we can back fill right now, even though it’s a sim game situation, at least he’s able to work on his timing at some game-like speed. But at the same time, we’re not going to push him to the point just to hang our hat on a certain number of at-bats.”

While Hill is swinging the bat, he’s been held back on running drills.

“With the advice of the medical staff as well as our trainers, we just wanted to back off the running altogether,” Farrell said. “Get him through this past weekend and into the midpart of this week before we start to get other baseball activities back involved.

“He’ll go through a progression that will at least give him some peace of mind so when he comes out of the box after making contact there’s not a whole lot of reservation there.

“But the fact that it still is spring training even though the days are ticking, we didn’t want to rush it and yet at some point we’re going to have to determine do we proceed with caution as is or do we continue to stay the course?”

Hill looked good swinging the bat in the sim game and looks as if he won’t need a lot of at-bats to find his groove.

As for the power, Farrell figures it’s already there, waiting to be tapped.

mike.rutsey@sunmedia.ca


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