In 2019, Jaden Hill began his career as a starter in LSU’s weekend rotation, posting just two mid-February outings against Air Force and Bryant before having to sit out the remainder of the year to injury.
Hill was first sidelined due to lingering elbow soreness, but was officially ruled out after undergoing season-ending surgery in May to remove a screw from a plate in his collarbone.
From then to now, the rehab process was a slow one and stimulated a ton of self reflection in his journey back. Hill’s main takeaway from his recovery was that anything can happen to anyone, and you shouldn't take opportunities for granted. Now, 2020 marks a new chance and a clean slate to showcase his talents.
“I learned a lot about myself,” Hill said on his rehab efforts. “I learned a lot from things that went right, things that went wrong. There was a lot of learning, but I’m glad I’ve got it all over with.”
Hill’s parents were heavily involved throughout his entire rehab, and he considers them to be the most supportive people in his corner, providing him with advice and words of encouragement from the jump.
“They told me to stay in the training room, do your thing, control what you can control,” he said. “You can control the amount of work you put in and the preparation. They’ve always been on my side.”
Last Saturday vs. Indiana, Hill looked spectacular in his first appearance since last February. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound right-hander clocked 98 MPH at one point, going two full innings, allowing no runs, no hits, while striking out three batters.
“Mentally it was good for me,” he said on his latest outing. “I was happy to get out there and get [that first outing] out of the way. Physically I felt great. It was an overall positive for me.”
Hill mentioned that he’s been throwing two-inning simulations for a couple months now. His main concern is staying healthy, to progress slowly and not rush the process, even if he is itching to extend into games. Through all of this, his recovery process after throwing has changed a bit.
“I’ve been more intense,” he said. “I’ve been more intense in the weight room, changing workouts and things like that. I’ve really focused in on things outside of the field.”
At Thursday’s media session, coach Paul Mainieri said his hope right now is to keep Hill in the bullpen this season because that would mean the three weekend starters are performing well, but he suggested they’re going to try to extend him more and more as the year goes on.
“He’s going to be a starting pitcher at LSU,” Mainieri said confidently of Hill. “By next year, he will probably be the Friday night starter. This year, we’ll see. I hope he’s not. We’re also going to start to stretch him out, just in case. We don’t want to, all the sudden, take him from the bullpen to the game starting role.”
“Of course I just want to go out there and compete,” Hill added. “At the end of the day, I don’t prefer seven innings, two innings, one inning, whatever coaches tell me to do I’m more than happy to go out there and throw. Any small role, any big role, I just want to help the team at the end of the day.”
In terms of role models, Hill especially looks up to current New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman for his athleticism and passion for the game. They’ve never met in person, but the two keep in contact from time to time over the phone and through social media.
Stroman is big on athleticism, and Hill has tried to emulate him by dribbling a basketball, playing football, and by doing things to stay athletic aside from the game of baseball. In fact, football was actually the first sport that Hill garnered collegiate offers. Then he started playing summer baseball his junior year in high school, began to throw harder, and the rest was history.
“My junior year, once I actually found out how college baseball worked, how professional baseball worked, and got more knowledge talking to a lot of people, I just felt like baseball was the best thing for me to do.”
On Friday night against Eastern Kentucky, Hill went 2.2 innings with five strikeouts and three walks. His fastball consistently clocked in the mid-90s, and the movement on his curveball was dangerous.
For Hill, it was the next step in returning to normalcy, and each week he inches a little bit closer.