Needing a spark defensively and on the bases, the Tigers reinstated the 25-year-old from the injured list Saturday before the second of three games against the Toronto Blue Jays. He has been sidelined since an Aug. 10 collision in the outfield in Baltimore with fellow outfielder Akil Baddoo, who is nearing his return from concussion protocol.
Hill was diagnosed with a left ribcage contusion.
“Each time he’s gotten hurt, he’s been right at the cusp of breaking through and doing some really positive things and playing a lot more regularly than he ever has at this level,” manager AJ Hinch said Saturday. “Getting his energy, getting his outfield defense commanding center field is going to be huge for us.”
To make room for Hill’s return, first baseman Renato Nunez was designated for assignment. He has been designated for assignment twice this season, the first happening April 21 after a seven-game stint.
Hill is hitting .250 with one home run, eight RBIs, 10 walks and 20 strikeouts over 28 games, along with stealing six bases in eight attempts. He was the Tigers’ No. 23 overall pick in the 2014 draft from Elk Grove High School in California, but took seven years to develop in the minor leagues.
He was scheduled to start in center field and bat leadoff in his return Saturday at Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays are slated to start left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu.
“I do like his at-bats against left-handed pitching,” Hinch said. “He hasn’t had a ton of them at this level, but putting him at the top makes our lineup a little longer and creates some speed and pressure. It’s hard to run on Ryu, so I’m not anticipating a ton of action on the bases unless it’s running with protection.”
Once Baddoo returns, which should happen Tuesday, Hinch is going to split the playing time between Hill, Baddoo, Daz Cameron, Victor Reyes, along with everyday outfielder Robbie Grossman. Second baseman Willi Castro is still expected to get reps beyond the infield dirt.
“The playing time is going to be on a day-to-day basis,” Hinch said. “We’ll see what lineup I put out there. But when (Hill is) out there, I feel total confidence that center field is going to be patrolled with great success.”
Nunez, 27, has played 14 games for the Tigers in 2021, hitting .189 with four home runs, seven RBIs, one walk and 16 strikeouts. He signed a minor-league contract with the Tigers last offseason but didn’t make the Opening Day roster out of spring training.
In the 2019 and 2020 seasons for the Baltimore Orioles, Nunez combined for a .247 batting average, 43 home runs, 61 walks and 207 strikeouts across 203 games. The Orioles released him in November because his poor defense at first base confined him to designated hitter.
“The construction of this team, it’s just more and more difficult to keep the guys on the team that we want as we get healthy and have duplicate-type players,” Hinch said, “which is Miggy (Miguel Cabrera) and Renato. We chose to go with speed and versatility in the outfield with Victor staying here and keeping our infielders in tact with Willi (Castro), Harold (Castro) and Zack (Short).
“(Nunez) is a good player. He can help a team. It does have to be a team that’s constructed to utilize his strengths. Right now, we’re not perfectly aligned that way, and it cost him his roster spot.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.