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Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Hill fills breach, builds bridge to Papelbon

By Chuck Murr

CLEVELAND -- Terry Francona sure was happy to have Rich Hill available in relief Tuesday night.

The left-hander got four key outs, including a strikeout to escape from a seventh-inning jam, to help Josh Beckett and the Red Sox beat the Cleveland Indians, 4-2.

“He came in and did exactly what you hoped he would do,” Francona said.

That would be coming on to replace Beckett with runners on the corners and striking out left-handed hitting Jack Hannahan to preserve a 4-1 lead against a team that has built baseball’s best record (30-16) on a series of late-inning comebacks.

The Red Sox are an American League-best 15-7 in May.

Francona turned to Hill, a converted starter, in the key setup role because Daniel Bard wasn’t available. Bard worked tough innings in each of the previous two games.

“We didn’t have Bard, but Rich came into a big situation and really helped us,” Francona said. He added that Bard will remain the main setup man for Jonathan Papelbon, but that Hill has pitched well enough to get more work in meaningful situations.

That’s fine with the 31-year-old, who has resurrected his career as a reliever. Hill has yet to yield a run in seven innings over seven outings since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket on May 5.

”The key is pitch-to-pitch focus,” said Hill, adding that he actually feels more comfortable when he gets to the mound in a pressure situation than when he’s warming up.

“When you get to the mound, there’s a sense of ease,” he explained. “When the phone rings, you get the adrenaline rush.”

Hill, a starter for the Cubs (2005-08) and Orioles (2009) turned to relief a year ago and has changed his delivery drastically, going to a corkscrew, sidearm motion that is particularly effective against lefties.

“I always had [relieving] as a backup plan, on the back burner,” Hill said. “When I started, I would drop down on a hitter now and then and it felt natural. Now, I have a more consistent release point. I feel a lot more comfortable.”

NOTES: David Ortiz hit in six straight games, going 10-for-27 (.370) with 5 doubles and 2 homers. He has 10 multihit games since May 2. ... Jason Varitek, who went deep Tuesday, has hit six homers since turning 38, tying Elston Howard for the most by a Red Sox catcher past that age. His two RBIs broke a tie with Mike Greenwell (726) for 13th place on the Red Sox' all-time list. ... Adrian Gonzalez's RBI double gave him a .520 average (13-for-25) with runners in scoring position and two outs this season.