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Mature Hill ready to bat second

Mature Hill ready to bat second

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BALTIMORE -- It was only a matter of time before Aaron Hill was regularly slotted into the second spot of the Blue Jays' lineup. Over the past few years, manager John Gibbons has made it no secret that he believed Hill would eventually occupy that role.

On Tuesday, Hill's name was back in the No. 2 spot for the fifth time this season and the fourth time in the past five games. It's a trend that is likely to continue now that Hill has emerged as one of the most consistent hitters in Toronto's lineup.

Throughout his young career, Hill has primarily appeared in the seventh or eighth spots of the Jays' batting order. As Hill has matured as a hitter, Gibbons has grown more convinced that Toronto can benefit from having the second baseman near the top of the lineup, garnering more at-bats in the process.

"You kind of have to earn your stripes," Hill said. "I've always believed that, since I've been up here, that I could be a No. 2 hole hitter and that I was one. I think Gibby has the same thought, but you've got to put your time in and show them and prove that you can do it."

Hill has been enjoying the change, especially now that he has the opportunity to hit in front of the likes of Alex Rios, Vernon Wells and Frank Thomas. Hill noted that he's had to adjust his approach some now that he's in the No. 2 spot, but it's been a smooth transition so far for the 26-year-old second baseman.

"It's comfortable," Hill said. "Just knowing that you've got those guys behind you, your approach changes a little bit. You're a little more patient. You're not up there hacking, because you might not get that first-pitch fastball like you do a lot of times in the bottom of the order. It'll make me a better hitter, I think. It's fun. I like it."

Through four games as Toronto's second hitter this season, Hill has hit .313 with four RBIs. For his career in the No. 2 spot, Hill has posted a .295 average and a .361 on-base percentage in 21 games. Those numbers trump the .288 average and .342 on-base percentage that Hill has managed overall in his career.

One reason that Gibbons believes Hill is well-suited for the lineup's No. 2 spot is the second baseman's hitting mechanics. Hill uses a simple swing that has helped him perform consistently since joining the Jays in 2005. Hill has hit .291 in each of the past two seasons and he was batting .320 this year, entering Tuesday.

"There's not a whole lot of moving parts," said Gibbons, assessing Hill's swing. "He's got that good, compact stroke. He can handle the breaking ball and he's got the ability to foul off tough pitches to keep an at-bat alive. He uses the whole field and he really has a knack for the right hit at the right time."

Last season, Hill established career highs with 17 home runs, 47 doubles and 78 RBIs in 160 games for the Jays, who signed him to a four-year extension earlier this month. That extension, which includes club options that could potentially keep Hill in Toronto through the 2014 season, provides evidence of Toronto's faith in Hill as a hitter.

Still, the second spot of the lineup had been reserved for veteran outfielders Shannon Stewart and Matt Stairs in the early going this season. Hill's performance this month swayed Gibbons into re-evaluating the second baseman's role within Toronto's offense. Case in point, Hill homered in his second at-bat against Baltimore on Tuesday.

"When we started the season," Gibbons said, "we had some veteran guys who had always hit at the top of the lineup. But [Hill's] just off to another really good start. He's picking up where he left off.

"He gave us much more of a threat down at the bottom, but the kind of hitter he is, and what we think he's going to be, [batting second] is going to give him maybe one more at-bat [each game]. The more at-bats for those guys the better."

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

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