Hill's newfound power years in making

Hill's newfound power years in making

TORONTO -- Before Aaron Hill could develop the type of power he is now displaying for the Blue Jays, he had to shed his stubborn side. Three years ago, the second baseman was being asked to alter his swing and he was trying to wrap his head around the idea.

While in the middle of a persistent slump early in the 2006 season, Hill went to work with former hitting coach Mickey Brantley, who wanted to change how the second baseman used his hands. Hill used to drive his bat toward a pitch from a near standstill. Brantley told Hill he could generate more power by bringing his hands back first, loading up before swinging forward.

"It was just a new concept," Hill said. "I'd never done that. It took a while to get over me wanting to change my swing -- bottom line. But I was struggling."

Hill tried the new approach and eventually got used to the revamped style. After hitting .186 through the first 33 games in 2006, Hill took Brantley's advice and posted a .320 average the rest of the way. Three years later, Hill has evolved into one of the best-hitting second basemen in the game, and he currently leads the Jays with 19 home runs.

"Aaron is a strong kid. He's a hard worker. He wants to get better," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "I know the home run power is a little bit different. It's just the fact that he's getting his hands going a little bit more this year and he's creating a little bit more power. I'm not surprised at all with him. I wouldn't be surprised if he did this for the rest of his career."

On Sunday, Hill launched two long balls for the first multihomer game of his five-year career. His 18th blast of 2009 established a new benchmark for Toronto second basemen, shattering the record of 17 in a season set first in 1993 by former Jays great Roberto Alomar and again in '07 by Hill, who played 160 games for Toronto that season.

Hill broke Alomar's record in Toronto's 77th game this season and is currently on pace for nearly 40 home runs. Entering Monday, Hill's 19 homers ranked first among Major League second baseman, as did his 102 hits, 56 RBIs and 171 total bases. Overall, Hill entered Monday as the American League leader in total bases and his 19 homers were the third-highest total.

"I'm having fun. I'll take them," said Hill, laughing off his newfound power. "I keep saying, 'I'll take them when they come.' If I start calling myself a home run hitter, I'll get in trouble."

Beyond the altered swing mechanics, Hill said the only difference for him this year is he is swinging a slightly heavier bat. The lumber he currently wields (32 inches, 32.5 ounces) checks in an ounce-and-a-half heavier than the bats he used before this season. Hill said he doesn't think that has necessarily contributed to the increase in home runs.

"I don't think that has anything to with it," Hill said. "A lot of guys swing really light bats. [Phillies second baseman Chase] Utley swings a 30-ounce bat and he's one of the best hitters in baseball. Some people will say every bat makes a difference. I just think it's the product of a good swing -- consistency."

Another addition to Hill's routine has been using an even heavier bat during batting practice. He tried it a few years ago, grabbing one of former Blue Jays third baseman Troy Glaus' 35-ounce bats during Spring Training and dragging it into the batting cage. That led to Hill raising his hands a little higher in his stance.

"It was heavy," Hill said. "It was making me use my hands and I'd never really felt that and I thought it was great. So, I ordered a couple heavy bats and I felt like I could whip it better from up here. ... At first, I hated it, because it felt heavy. It's four or five ounces heavier than my normal bat, but you swing it for a while and you stick with it. It's just getting comfortable with it like anything else."

After using the heavy bat in BP, Hill's game bats felt a bit lighter, so he stuck with the routine.

"Yeah, until Russ broke it [on Sunday]," said Hill, referring to teammate Russ Adams. "Now I have to order another one. The one time I let him use my bat."

Hill shook his head and laughed.

"He's flustered about it," Hill said. "He didn't want to bring it in to me. He was nervous."

Pitching matchup
TOR: RHP Scott Richmond (6-4, 3.68 ERA)
Richmond is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 14 strikeouts over 15 innings in his last two starts.

TB: RHP Matt Garza (5-5, 3.61 ERA)
Garza has gone 3-3 with a 1.99 ERA in six career appearances against the Blue Jays.

Bird feed
Left-hander Scott Downs, who is currently on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained toe on his left foot, plans on pitching off a mound to test his foot on Tuesday. Downs said he is also scheduled to run through some fielding drills. "It's the best it's felt," Downs said of his foot. "It's getting better all the time." Downs is eligible to come off the DL on Friday, but it's not clear if he'll be ready to return that soon. ... Right fielder Alex Rios was given a day off Monday, but Gaston said the right fielder would be back in the lineup come Tuesday. Over his past eight games, Rios has hit .133 with no home runs and four RBIs. That followed a 13-game stretch during which Rios hit .321 with two homers and seven RBIs. The day off was Rios' first since May 26. ... Including Monday's opener against the Rays, the Blue Jays are in the midst of a 16-game stretch with games only against American League East rivals. ... Entering Monday, the Blue Jays were tied for first in the Majors with the most players with a .300 average (minimum 200 at-bats). Third baseman Scott Rolen (.333), left ifelder Adam Lind (.307) and Hill (.305) made up that group. ... Toronto entered Monday's game ranked first in baseball with the most players (six) with at least 35 RBIs (Rod Barajas, Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, Rios, Lind and Hill). ... On Monday, the Blue Jays signed two players selected by the team during the First-Year Player Draft earlier this month. Left-hander Aaron Loup (ninth round) and right-hander Ryan Tepera (19th round) both agreed to contracts. Toronto has yet to sign its first-round pick (20th overall), right-hander Chad Jenkins of Kennesaw State University.

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Up next
• Wednesday: Blue Jays (Ricky Romero, 5-3, 3.20) vs. Rays (James Shields, 6-5, 3.41), 1:07 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Off-day
• Friday: Blue Jays (Brian Tallet, 5-5, 4.47) at Yankees (TBD), 1:05 p.m. ET

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