CHICAGO -- Less than 11 months removed from Tommy John elbow ligament transfer surgery, lefty Rich Hill reappeared for the Red Sox and was activated for Friday night's game against the White Sox.
Their bullpen struggling for much of April, Hill's return could not have come at a better time.
Hill stayed on course with his rehab and never had a setback, enabling him to beat the clock and return to the roster for his hometown team, the one he has pitched for since 2010.
"I didn't really know at the time as far as how long it was going to take with the rehab process, but as soon as you start throwing and you start to feel like stuff is coming along and you get into the long-toss part of your program, you know things are going to go pretty smoothly and you kind of stay where you're at at every segment," Hill said. "You don't try to get too far ahead of yourself. You don't try to push the envelope with the rehab process."
To make room for Hill on the roster, the Red Sox optioned lefty Justin Thomas to Triple-A Pawtucket. Thomas posted a 7.71 ERA in seven games.
If the Red Sox can get Hill pitching like he was a year ago, when he didn't allow an earned run while striking out 12 batters over eight innings in nine appearances, they could have a significant weapon.
And one reason for optimism is that Hill feels a lot stronger than he did last season, before the injury.
"I feel like the ball's coming out better. I do. I feel like it's coming out with more life," Hill said. "It just seems like everything is put together better, and that's probably mostly due to the regimen of working out this offseason, again, the rehab part of it. When I say the rehab part of it, I mean the work we did in the training room, the shoulder program we did. I don't really think you're rehabbing the elbow. It's more making sure you maintain and continue to strengthen your shoulder. There's a lot of work that goes into it."
Manager Bobby Valentine was happy to have Hill back in the fold.
"He's worked so hard, stayed with the program, and has been religious with his work ethic," Valentine said. "It's a credit to a plan that was followed and a guy who was able to follow the plan. He's been on the mound 17, 18 times. Eleven of them have been in competition. He's done well. He's, I think, physically ready to be here."
The Red Sox could soon have another lefty reliever back in action in Andrew Miller, who started the season on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain. Miller has pitched eight games in the Minors, posting a 4.32 ERA.
"[General manager] Ben [Cherington] talked to him," Valentine said. "He was talked to when Rich came up. He feels he's close. We feel he's close. [He needs] a little more consistency, but he's throwing well."
Bard states convincing case for rotation
CHICAGO -- It wasn't so much a debate as it was an outcry. Following a 4-10 start by the Red Sox, fans wanted Daniel Bard back in the bullpen, and they wanted the move made promptly.
But Bard would only go back to his former role for one night, and only because a rainout forced his start to be skipped.
Friday night, when Bard returned to the rotation, he made his most convincing case yet that he should stay there for good.
The righty had electric stuff, holding the White Sox to six hits and two earned runs while walking one and striking out six over seven innings in a second straight 10-3 rout.
"I've been very impressed with his focus," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. "Those things could have gotten him, mentally, out of touch with his start tonight. The things that went on tonight, from the cold weather to some of the things that happened, could have gotten him out of focus. He wanted to go out there again. I think he had a complete game in him tonight. If it wasn't so cold and he didn't have those long layovers, I'd have given him a chance for it."
By the way, the once 4-10 Red Sox are now 9-10. The bullpen is somehow surviving without Bard, which means he just might be able to stay put.
"I know it's been said over and over but I do feel like I've gotten better with each outing, going back to the spring," Bard said. "I've gotten more comfortable with throwing offspeed in fastball counts. I'm more consistently throwing strike one with my fastball, which tonight was huge for me. So, it's just a combination of things. I'm just learning the nuances of starting. Tonight was, I feel, a step in the right direction."
Bard's evolution as a starter is there for all to see.
"It's hard to put it all into words. We've seen an evolution," Valentine said. "The first time we looked at him, we were worried if he'd have a windup. He got through the windup. We worried about the third pitch. He got through the third pitch. We worried about his ability to go more than 60 pitches. He just keeps progressing. He's doing well."
Ortiz taking what opposition gives him
CHICAGO -- David Ortiz will cool off at some point. Even the best hitters do. But for now, the Red Sox will just sit back and enjoy the slugger's red-hot start.
Even in frigid conditions on Friday night in Chicago, Ortiz walloped a two-run homer to right, his fourth on the season, during a 10-3 victory.
He leads the American League with a .425 average and is second with a .476 on-base percentage. This, to go along with a .699 slugging percentage.
Be it against lefties or righties, Ortiz is hammering the baseball.
"He's swinging the bat very well. He's playing with a great deal of confidence and enjoying what he's doing," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. "We talked about hitting the ball to left field. Tonight, he hit the ball to right. We talked about hitting the slider. He hit the fastball. He's just locked in."
Since Aug. 7, 2011, Ortiz leads the Majors with a .386 batting average.
"Oh yeah, I'm not really thinking about it. If you watch the game, they only pitch me away," said Ortiz.
In other words, he's going with the pitch and often beating the shift, which leaves the entire left side of the infield vacated.
"Oh yeah, I want to see if I can hit .350 this year," quipped Ortiz. "That's the only way. I'm working hard, man. I don't do anything different but keep on working."
Red Sox to honor Wakefield on May 15
CHICAGO -- Veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who earned career win No. 200 last September and retired two months ago, will be honored in a pregame ceremony at Fenway Park on May 15. The Red Sox are calling it "Thanks, Wake Day."
The Red Sox play the Mariners in a 4:05 p.m. ET contest that day. The ceremony is expected to start at 3:30.
This will mark the third time Wakefield will take part in Fenway festivities this season.
He was honored along with former team captain Jason Varitek in a first-pitch ceremony at the team's home opener on April 13.
And one week later, Wakefield participated in the 100th anniversary celebration of Fenway Park, poignantly pushing Bobby Doerr in a wheelchair to his position at second base while Varitek did the same for retired shortstop Johnny Pesky.
Outfielder Cody Ross was back in Boston's lineup on Friday night after missing Thursday's game with soreness in his left knee. "Has a bounce in his step, says he's OK," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. Carl Crawford will work out under the supervision of the Red Sox when they return at the beginning of next week for a homestand against the Athletics and Orioles. Diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow, he will resume baseball activities once his elbow can tolerate it. Valentine said that center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is making progress from the right-shoulder subluxation he suffered on April 13. "More and more. Every day, he's moving along in the range of motion, strength. He was carrying a banana the other day," quipped Valentine.