Climbing the Hill

Blue Jays batter Aaron Hill hits a sacrifice fly against the Mariners at Safeco Field in Seattle,...

Blue Jays batter Aaron Hill hits a sacrifice fly against the Mariners at Safeco Field in Seattle, Wash., Tuesday night. (Getty Images)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:23 AM ET

SEATTLE - It was just one game and Aaron Hill knows it but nobody should begrudge him the feeling that a great weight has been lifted from his shoulders.

Tuesday night the dark cloud that has been hovering over Hill’s head all season lifted to let in a little bit of light, with a two-hit (including a long home run), four-RBI game.

What made that small breakthrough seem even bigger for Hill is that it came as a result of something he has found in his last few sessions working with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy.

“Murph and I have been working a lot all year but for the last couple of days we’ve been freeing up my hands a little bit and tonight they were a little quicker,” said Hill.

“It felt great. The results were there but what I’m looking for is the feel at the plate and it felt like things were just happening naturally rather than forcing things to happen.

“I was just reacting and the hands worked. I’ve been seeing the ball pretty well but this time, it was a little different. I moved my hands down a little bit and just eliminated some movement to make things more free and easy.

“I’m going to keep working with it and try to keep it going.”

Hill has tried many different avenues to kick-start his batting stroke but the reason he is enthused about the events of the last couple of days is that it feels right.

“Everything has felt so mechanical, I’ve been trying so many things to get things going and using too much shoulder, forcing my swing. The last couple of days I’ve felt good in the cage and good at the plate.”

Hill got two days off in succession on the weekend. Not his idea. The break, coupled with the work he’s been doing, may be paying off.

“I couldn’t really argue,” he said. “I’m hitting .220. I don’t like taking days off but it was also fun to see Johnny Mac get in there and do what he’s been doing. I always cheer for him.”

There are plenty of people within the Jays’ organization who are cheering just as hard for Hill because he’s been a congenial part of the Blue Jay family for eight years and a very productive player for most of those years.

“Last night he swung the bat as well, over the whole game, as he has in any game all year,” said manager John Farrell.

But the clock is definitely ticking.

Hill is at the mercy of the club-friendly extension he signed at the start of the 2008 season. That agreement guaranteed Hill $12 million US over four seasons, taking him through to the end of 2011, with club options for an additional $26 million ($8 million for 2012, $8 million for 2013 and $10 million for 2014).

At the end of the 2010 season, a season in which Hill hit just .205, with a .665 OPS, 26 homers and 68 RBI, the Jays had the option to exercise all three of those option years, but declined.

At the end of 2011, the Jays once again have the right to accept or decline the options on 2012 and 2013. Since Hill is hitting .229 with a .597 OPS, just six home runs and 45 RBI, it is a foregone conclusion that those options will be declined at those salary levels.

That doesn’t mean Hill is done as a Blue Jay. There appears to be some will on both sides to negotiate a new deal at considerably less money. Just where that price-point is, in terms of money and years, remains to be seen.

That’s why the next six weeks are crucial for Hill with his career at such a crossroads. A big finish could earn him some money in a new deal with the Jays.

It’s not just the Blue Jays who will be watching with interest. So, too, will other teams, analyzing whether Hill, who hit 36 home runs three years ago, has anything left in the tank at the relatively young age of 29.

Free agency can be a double-edged sword and timing is everything. Catch it at the right time and you can get yourself a goldmine. At the wrong time, all you get is the shaft.

“It’s a tough road, especially with the hole I’ve dug myself,” said Hill, “but I’ve just got to keep going.”


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