Following four rehab starts in the Minors while he was recovering from a strained left elbow, Hill made his Orioles debut a memorable one on Saturday night, delivering 5 2/3 solid innings and emerging as the winning pitcher in Baltimore's 3-2 victory over Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium.
If not for an unlucky fourth inning, when the Royals used two bloop singles and a two-run double that kicked up the chalk along the left-field line, Hill would have been working on a shutout, when manager Dave Trembley came out to get him in the sixth with the Orioles up, 3-2. Trembley patted Hill on the shoulder several times before Hill left the mound and the converging infielders all offered their congratulations, as well.
"I went out there and stayed with the game plan, which was to be aggressive and attack," Hill said. "I had a good curveball, good changeup, good fastball. I continued to mix those pitches in there."
If Hill can continue to build on what he did against the Royals on Saturday, one big piece of the Orioles' starting pitching puzzle will be in place. Control had been a concern during Hill's rehab outings, but he walked just two on Saturday while allowing seven mostly soft hits.
"He gave us everything we expected and more," Trembley said. "It's a real shot in the arm for everybody. The guys played with some life behind him. You've got to be real impressed with what he did today."
Hill arrived at Kauffman Stadium early on Saturday. He sat in the dugout, watched the Royals take batting practice and generally just got comfortable with his surroundings. Then he got down to business in a smooth and efficient manner.
"He did his homework, had a plan and stuck with it," Trembley said. "I thought that was as good a game as we've seen out of a starting pitcher this year."
With veteran catcher Chad Moeller providing the pitch-sequence blueprint, Hill recorded his first Major League win since April 18, 2008, when he was with Chicago. Hill showed the form that made him an 11-game winner for the Cubs in 2007, when he worked 195 innings, recorded a 3.92 ERA and helped Chicago land in the playoffs.
After an injury-marred 2008 season, Hill said it makes a day like Saturday all the more rewarding.
"Every day, you're happy you can play and compete at this level," Hill said. "It's something I'll never take for granted."
The Orioles didn't have a lot going at the plate on Saturday, but they managed to scratch out just enough offense to make Hill a winner. Brian Roberts led off the game with a walk and proceeded to steal second and then third. A wild pitch by Kansas City starter Kyle Davies put the Orioles on top.
Nolan Reimold delivered his first career RBI with a single in the fourth to make it 2-0, but then the Royals tied it with Alberto Callaspo's two-run double.
It took Cesar Izturis' bunt single with two outs in the fifth to jump-start Baltimore's offense again. Izturis moved to second on a wild pitch and scored when Nick Markakis' grounder got past Callaspo for what proved to be the game-winning hit. After Hill left, the Baltimore bullpen unit of Danys Baez, Jim Johnson and George Sherrill worked 3 1/3 hitless innings to wrap up the win.
But Hill's effort was truly the focal point for a Baltimore team that will attempt to take three out of four in the series on Sunday before moving on to New York.
"He's got a little funk to his motion, and he's got a good breaking ball that kept us off balance a little bit," Royals first baseman Mike Jacobs said.
After all the waiting and all the anticipation, Hill is finally where he wants to be.
"It's satisfying in a lot of ways," Hill said. "With the trials I went through last year to get to the point I'm at this year, it's just a great feeling."
Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less