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Sinker crucial for Taylor Hill

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Taylor Hill

Former MJHS & Vandy standout
It is not always about throwing 100 MPH and striking everyone out for professional baseball pitchers.

Not everyone is gifted with that elite velocity and those are not need to find another way to record outs.

For Syracuse Chiefs (Washington Nationals Triple-A affiliate) starting pitcher and Mt. Juliet native Taylor Hill, pitching is about forcing weak contact and giving his fielders a workout.

Throughout his pro career, has lived and died by his sinker, a pitch he picked up while pitching at Vanderbilt.

Originally, Hill threw a two-seam fastball in high school, a similar pitch. But he said he did not know how to utilize the pitch.

It was with the Commodores where his coaching staff, including longtime head coach Tim Corbin, realized the pitch could be a major asset to his arsenal.

On the mound, the righty would be described as a sinkerballer. And Hill admits what he lacks in velocity, he tries to make up for with the pitch.

"It's something I want to do because obviously, I'm not going to strike out ten guys," he said. "I need to induce weak contact as much as I can and it's a good way to do it."

Of course, his style of play keeps fielders busy. But as a fielder himself, Hill helps his own cause. He won the minor league equivalent of the Gold Glove Award in 2013.

"I like fielding the ball," he said. "I don't mind doing PFP (pitchers' fielding practice) drills or anything like that. I enjoy it."

Last year, Hill struggled in Triple-A, going 3-10 with a 5.23 ERA in 22 starts as opposing batters hit .327 off of him. He was throwing strikes and fielding the ball cleanly.

But his sinker was not moving - which turned weak contact into hard contact.

This season, Hill said his main focus right now is working on bringing his sinker back to what it has been in the past, a pitch which led him to an 11-7 record with a 2.81 ERA in 25 outings for the Chiefs in 2014.

Albeit he struggled in Triple-A last season, Hill enjoyed a big league stint that lasted nearly a month from late May to late June.

Pitching in relief, he posted a 3.75 ERA in six outings lasting 12 innings before being sent back down to Triple-A.

"It was really special," he said of his big league tenure. "It was cool for me and my family too. It was something really cool and I'm just working, trying to get back up there."

Due to his struggles starting games in the minors during the second half last season, he was not called up in September when big league rosters expanded.

Since his style is less taxing on the arm than someone who battles for three strikes, one of Hill's top assets on the mound is his stamina: his ability to pitch deep into games.

At 27 years old, that stamina could be what is keeping him away from the bullpen.

Making his lone big league start in 2014, Hill was tagged for seven runs in 4.2 innings. Coming out of the bullpen in the big leagues, he owns a 3.86 ERA in eight outings spanning 16.1 innings.

While it is tough to throw a guy into a role he is not used to, Hill did not seem to have a hard time adjusting and was excited for the opportunity.

"Pitching is pitching - no matter how it happens," he said.

"It's different. But it's not different in a bad way. I don't mind, doing either one. I think it's good for you to be versatile and be able to do different things."

As of Tuesday, the Nationals were 14-4 which was the best record in baseball. Boasting some of the game's top talents like Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, they could be a postseason contender this season.

Seeing the quality of ballplayers on the major league club, Hill wants to be a part of it all.

"It's pretty cool man," he of the Nationals' success to date. "Just to watch them and the fun they're having, it just makes you want to get up there even more."

At Mt. Juliet High School, Hill, who was named the Gatrorade Player of the Year for Tennessee as a senior, helped his team to district championships in 2006 and 2007.

He also played alongside now-Cincinnati Reds reliever Caleb Cotham and is happy to see his former teammate succeeding in baseball.

"He's fun to watch," said Hill of Cotham. "He's got great stuff. Obviously, I want to get back up there. But nothing's easy."

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baseball, Golden Bears, Mt. Juliet High School, Syracuse Chiefs, Taylor Hill, Tom Joyce, Washington Nationals
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