DETROIT — Four months ago, Garrett Hill headed to Tigers Minor League minicamp wondering if he’d have to go to another organization to get his chance in the Majors as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Instead, he just had to bide his time for Detroit to come calling.
On Monday afternoon, Hill not only became the 14th different pitcher to start a game for the Tigers this season, he delivered a historic gem in his Major League debut. His six innings of two-hit, one-run ball topped Tigers nemesis Zach Plesac, sending Detroit to a 4-1 win to start a split doubleheader at Comerica Park.
Hill became the first pitcher in Tigers history to toss six or more innings while allowing two hits or fewer in his Major League debut. It was a demonstration of spin and smarts over velocity. While Hill didn’t overpower the Guardians, topping out just shy of 94 mph according to Statcast, he allowed just three balls with exit velocities over 100 mph. He drew just five swings-and-misses, but three were for strikeouts.
Hill, the Tigers’ 26th-round pick in the 2018 Draft out of San Diego State and their No. 23 prospect, caught evaluators’ attention with 99 strikeouts over 75 2/3 innings last year to go with a 6-1 record and a 2.74 ERA between High-A West Michigan and Double-A Erie. The cancellation of the Rule 5 Draft was a godsend for Detroit, which watched him complete his climb up the system with a 3.23 ERA and 98 strikeouts over 69 2/3 innings between Erie and Triple-A Toledo this season.
Three of Hill’s 15 Minor League starts this season came against Guardians affiliates, including his worst performance with six runs allowed over four innings against Triple-A Columbus on June 3. If any club should have a scouting report on the Tigers rookie, it’s Cleveland.
Despite that, Hill held the Guardians to a Josh Naylor solo home run and a Steven Kwan single. The latter would have accounted for a run, but Tucker Barnhart’s lunging swipe tag from a Robbie Grossman throw retired Myles Straw trying to score from second base in the third inning.
Hill’s five-pitch mix kept the Guardians guessing. The only time he became predictable was in his home run to Naylor, who pounced on a third consecutive offspeed pitch and drove it deep to right. Hill retired his final seven batters from there, earning a handshake and gratitude from manager A.J. Hinch.
It was a stellar debut for what will be at least a three-start audition from Hill, the latest hurler to rise through Detroit’s system sooner than planned and help an injury-plagued Tigers starting corps. He’ll finish out the first half in the rotation, including a likely rematch with the Guardians next week in Cleveland. The Tigers plan to reassess their rotation from there, potentially regaining Rony García from the injured list.