Inside Derek Hill’s secret weapon vs. shift with Detroit Tigers: ‘A big part of my game’

Detroit Free Press

LOS ANGELES — Detroit Tigers outfielder Derek Hill doesn’t want to get into all the details.

“That’ll be for another day,” Hill said. “There’s a lot there.”

Gene Roof retired from his post as the Tigers’ outfield coordinator in November 2020, after spending 34 years with the organization. Before his departure, the baseball lifer taught Hill about the nuances of bunting.

“I feel like it’s a little bit of a lost art,” Hill said Sunday, before the Tigers’ series finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. “Not many people do it anymore. But the way that the shifts are right now, it’s a pretty good weapon to be able to use. The push bunt is going to be a big part of my game this year.”

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Teams are shifting Hill up the middle, which is where he collects most of his singles. Players want to protect themselves from giving up hits on his ground balls into center field.

That’s where bunting comes in.

“He’s got a lot more confidence to do it,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “There are hits out there for guys, and his skillset matches that. He can swing the bat a little bit, but he also has the dynamic speed.

“We play so deep as an industry now at third base, and nobody bunts. Derek notices that a little more than most. It provides a little bit of energy. His job is to get on base, and bunts count.”

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Hill reached safely on a bunt single in the third inning April 23 in a 3-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies. He did the same in his next game, executing a perfect bunt as the leadoff hitter in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins.

The 26-year-old, the No. 23 overall pick in the 2014 draft, advanced to first base in 3.77 seconds. When the play happened, Hill had the sixth-fastest home-to-first time of any MLB player in 2022.

Hill appeared to have his third bunt single of the season in Friday’s 5-1 loss against the Dodgers, but his feet made contact with the infield grass while running down the first-base line.

Running in the grass is an automatic out.

“It’s a horseshit rule, but it’s a rule,” Hinch said. “When it happens towards the base, it feels a little unfair to the runner. But you can’t run in the grass and give the umpire an opportunity to make that decision. I understand it’s a judgment call. Generally, they’re right.”

“It just depends on the umpire, honestly,” Hill said. “Sometimes they call it, sometimes they don’t. … I’ll leave it up to them. I have to do the thing the right way. Stay on the dirt the entire way and you don’t have to worry about it.”

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Hill also attempted three bunts in Saturday’s 5-1 win, facing right-handed reliever Evan Phillips. He stepped into the batter’s box in the seventh inning, with runners on first and second base and no outs.

The Tigers wanted him to advance the runners.

“I put the bunt sign on,” Hinch said.

Hill bunted foul three pitches in a row for a strikeout.

Through five games, Hill is hitting .250 with one walk and six strikeouts. Of his five hits, two are on bunts. He is considered an above-average defender in center field.

And Hill has elite speed.

In 2021, Hill averaged a sprint speed of 30.5 feet per second.

He ranked fourth in MLB, behind Tim Locastro (30.7 feet per second), Trea Turner (30.7) and Eli White (30.5). He paced the Tigers with 36 bolts, categorized as any run with a sprint speed of at least 30 feet per second.

“That’s God given,” Hill said. “I didn’t really do anything to become fast. I’m just fast. I’m thankful for it. It’s part of my game.”

Reyes close to rehab assignment

Outfielder Victor Reyes is making progress in his rehabilitation program in Lakeland, Florida, recovering from a left quad strain. The Tigers placed him on the 10-day injured list April 23.

“Victor is moving around a little bit,” Hinch said. “Feet on the ground, which is important. He’s going to do some base running drills over the early part of this week as we ramp up his activity.”

The Tigers hope Reyes will appear in a game next week to begin his rehab assignment.

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Cisnero building stamina

Right-handed reliever José Cisnero, also rehabbing in Lakeland, is recovering from a right shoulder sprain. The Tigers sent him to the 60-day injured list April 6, so he won’t be eligible to return to the team until June.

Cisnero is in the early stages of building up his stamina.

“He’s more ramping up and doing some things that causes some optimism,” Hinch said. “He’s cleared the injury, and now we’ve got to build strength. We’ve still got plenty of time before we initiate a throwing program. He’s taking steps forward.”

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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