Tigers’ Garrett Hill poised for his MLB debut, but ‘goal is to stay here’

Detroit News

Detroit — Lloyd McClendon pulled the old okey-doke on young right-hander Garrett Hill.

The Toledo Mud Hens manager pulled Hill and pitching coach Doug Bochtler into his office Saturday and started challenging him to start throwing more strikes.

“Lloyd told me to sit down and he goes, ‘Coming up to Triple-A you weren’t exactly pounding the zone,’” Hill said Sunday morning, retelling the story. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s true.’ And he says, ‘But you guys have been working hard and after each start you got better and better. And because of that hard work, you are going to the big leagues.’”

Imagine this moment for Hill. He’s 26 years old. He wasn’t recruited out of high school. He started his journey at Santa Rosa Junior College in California. He was drafted by the Tigers in the 26th round in 2018. He started the season at Double-A Erie and, after eight Triple-A starts, he’d just been told he would be pitching for the Tigers at Comerica Park on Monday.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Hill said. “Time stopped. I just looked at him, holding back the emotions. It’s something you’ve wanted since you were a little kid, to actually be going to the big leagues. It’s the fulfillment of a dream.

“Now the goal is to stay here. But I was overwhelmed for a couple of minutes.”

Hill will be the sixth pitcher to debut with the Tigers this season and the 14th to make a start. He will be replacing right-hander Rony Garcia, who was put on the injured list with shoulder soreness.

“I always say this: I don’t think I’ve ever been given anything,” Hill said. “I’ve worked extremely hard. My family has sacrificed a lot, my girlfriend has sacrificed a lot just so I could fulfill my dream. It’s meant the world to me.”

Hill has traveled a similar path as rookie right-hander Beau Brieske, from JUCO ball to the big leagues, but he brings a different type of arsenal. Brieske has a fierce, 95-mph heater and an elite changeup. Hill’s fastball won’t go much above 92 mph, but it plays up because of a high spin rate that produces 19 inches of vertical rise.

“You have to dig a little deeper in evaluating him and analyzing him,” manager AJ Hinch said. “Because he can spin the ball. His fastball performs better than the numbers. He’s not a radar-gun guy. But the swing-and-miss, he’s handled that. In Double-A he crushed left-handed hitters.

“If you look at his overall body of work, it warrants him being challenged coming up here.”

In his last three starts at Toledo, Hill allowed one run in 14 innings, striking out 18 with three walks. He’s been able to pair a cutter with his riding heater and also effectively mixing changeups and a curveball.

“Being in the zone is the biggest part of it,” Hill said. “You can’t defend a walk. Just attack. If they hit it, they hit it. But more times than not, if you make your pitch you’re going to get outs. I don’t necessarily chase strikeouts, just get those quick outs in like three or four pitches and go from there.

“I’m excited to see how these guys up here adjust to the fastball and how I adjust to that and see how everything else plays, too.”

This won’t be a one-and-done opportunity for Hill. Hinch told him he would get at least three starts going into the All-Star break.

“We are trying to get to the break and then we will reassess what our rotation looks like going into the second half,” Hinch said.

Had there been a Rule 5 draft this year, Hill likely would be pitching on another team, especially after a strong showing at the Arizona Fall League (three runs in 13.2 innings with 21 strikeouts and three walks).

“We were fearful of losing him but when it didn’t happen and we escaped that loss, we thought he’d make his debut at some time this season,” Hinch said. “But not in the same rotation as Brieske and Alex Faedo. That was quite unsuspected.”

Hill, who will make his debut in Game 1 Monday, took some time to walk around the stadium Saturday, trying to take everything in.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “I’ve never been here before. Seeing that extra level at the top and everything in the background — it’s stunning. It’s absolutely crazy. But you get on the field and it’s like, the bases are still 90 feet and the mound is right in the middle.

“I’ve been doing this my whole life, so, it’s just super exciting. My mindset has been really good. I like where I’m at and I’m going to do my best to carry that over to tomorrow.”

On deck: Guardians

Series: Four games at Comerica Park, Detroit

First pitch: Monday (2) — 1:10 p.m. and 6:40 p.m.; Tuesday — 7:10 p.m.; Wednesday — 1:10 p.m.

TV/radio: All four games on Bally Sports Detroit/97.1 FM

Probables: Monday, Game 1 — RHP Zach Plesac (2-5, 3.86) vs RHP Garrett Hill (MLB debut); Monday, Game 2 — TBD vs. RHP Alex Faedo (1-4, 4.84); Tuesday — RHP Cal Quantrill (4-4, 3.72) vs. TBA; Wednesday — RHP Shane Bieber (3-4, 3.16) vs. RHP Michael Pineda (1-3, 3.62).

Scouting report

Game 1

Plesac, Guardians: The Tigers are catching him on a pretty good run. Cleveland is 4-2 in his last six starts and he’s allowed only eight earned runs in 36 innings. Opponents are slashing .209/.259/.343 in that stretch. His slider, changeup and curveball have been effective off a 92-mph four seamer.

Hill, Tigers: A 26th-round pick in 2018, started the season in Double-A Erie and has since made eight starts at Triple-A Toledo. In his last three he’s allowed just one run in 14 innings, striking out 18 with three walks. The 26-year-old features a firm four-seam fastball that the data shows 19 inches of vertical ride. He pairs that with a cutter and will mix in a changeup and curve.

Game 2

TBD, Guardians

Faedo, Tigers: Optioned to Toledo last week, Faedo will be up as the 27th man. He’s allowed 15 runs (14 earned) over 11.1 innings in his last three starts.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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