Toronto takes rubber game in series

Toronto takes rubber game in series

TORONTO -- Aaron Hill didn't need anyone to point out how poorly he was hitting last April. Toronto's second baseman was greeted with a friendly reminder nearly every time he strolled to the batter's box.

"Oh, I knew," said Hill, who's able to laugh a little now about his early struggles a year ago. "They posted it right up on the scoreboard every day when I was hitting.

By the time the season's first month came to a close, Hill's batting average stood at just .195. The way things have been going for Hill lately, though, last year's issues seem like ancient history.

On Wednesday, Hill paced Toronto's offense with three hits, which helped provide a cushion for the bullpen in a 7-4 victory over the Royals. Hill's two-run double in the seventh inning upped his season average to .387 -- an impressive start that the 25-year-old believes simply is a result of added confidence in himself and his swing.

"Every day, me and [hitting coach Mickey Brantley] are in the cage," Hill said. "It's not much -- a few swings here and there -- but it's just getting the feel and sticking with it. Last year, it took me a while to get where I'm at right now."

Hill's at a point now where he's extremely comfortable at the plate in any situation. Take the seventh inning on Wednesday night for example. After Royals reliever Todd Wellemeyer fired a wild pitch, advancing runners to second and third base, he decided to intentionally walk Toronto right fielder Alex Rios.

The move made sense. Kansas City (3-6) was decreasing the probability of yielding a game-changing home run when the Blue Jays (5-3) were leading, 5-4. Hill understood why the Royals sent Rios jogging to first base, but all the decision did was fuel his motivation.

"When someone gets intentionally walked in front of you, you want to step up," Hill said. "Yeah, they're just playing percentages, but at the same time, it's like, 'OK, they think they can get me out.' You've get a little more incentive to get the job done."

That's exactly what Hill did, too. He sliced an offering from Wellemeyer down the right-field line for a double, which scored two runs and essentially sealed the win for the Blue Jays. With that hit, Hill finished with a .636 average in the three-game series against the Royals.

"He's just a kid who can hit and he's gaining confidence," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "He's a tough out. He's got a good, short swing and he's just coming into his own."

Besides Hill, Toronto third baseman Troy Glaus played a key role in helping left-hander Gustavo Chacin (1-0) pick up his first win of the year for the Jays. Glaus doubled and scored in the second, added a solo home run in the sixth, and trotted across home plate a third time on Hill's double. Rios added a two-run double off Royals starter Jorge De La Rosa (1-1) in the fourth.

Chacin continued to display his improved tempo over five-plus innings and exited the game after allowing three runs on five hits, including one on a solo blast by David DeJesus in the third. With a rested relief corps available, Gibbons opted to pull Chacin after he allowed a leadoff double to Reggie Sanders in the sixth.

"I went to the 'pen early -- no question," Gibbons said. "I didn't like everything I saw [with Chacin]. He was giving up some hard-hit balls and there were a couple right-handers coming up. I wanted to make a change, but he did what he needed to do."

Chacin, who threw just 79 pitches in the outing, had no issues with Gibbons' decision, especially considering the late-inning work turned in by the 'pen.

"We've got a great bullpen," Chacin said. "In that situation, it was the top of the sixth inning, and these guys did a great job. They did it."

After a 1 2/3-inning performance by right-hander Casey Janssen, who gave up his first earned run of the season, Toronto turned to Jason Frasor up by one run. The Jays' new setup man entered the game with two outs in the seventh and Esteban German standing on first base.

After an error by shortstop Royce Clayton advanced German into scoring position, Frasor induced a sharp ground ball up the middle off the bat of Sanders. Frasor snared the ball and tossed it to first to retire the side, stealing away a potential game-tying base hit.

"That was just pure reaction," said Frasor, who set the table for closer B.J. Ryan's third save of the year. "I don't know how I did that."

Like Frasor, Hill struggled to find the words to explain just how he's been able to get off to such a hot start.

"I don't know how to describe it," Hill said. "Nothing's really changed. It's just maybe experience. I'm more comfortable."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.