Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error LOS ANGELES >> The gestation period for a top-tier starting pitcher is not always the same.In very rare cases, they arrive fully-formed – think Dwight Gooden. In others, the labor pains pass quickly – Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez. Some take longer – Randy Johnson, Jake Arrietta.Few take as long as Rich Hill has.“What’s interesting about him is if you took him sort of as he was coming up through the minors and then projected this out – it wouldn’t have surprised me in 2004 when he was in Double-A and Triple-A if he would be doing this at this age,” Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi said of the 36-year-old Hill. “If I look back and say ‘If this guy was healthy for the last 10 years, who knows what the results would have been?’ But you have injuries and you can’t control that. So we are where we are right now and I just keep trying to stay in the moment, stay in what you need to do today.”Hill’s late-career blossoming is largely the result of finally learning what he needs to do – and being healthy enough to do it consistently.He came up with the Cubs as a young starting pitcher with a “plus” curveball that he tried to incorporate into a conventional four-pitch mix. A baseball lifer, Gary Hughes was in the Cubs’ front office during Hill’s rise to the majors and early years there.“Things were there. There were flashes. He just wasn’t able to do it consistently,” recalled Hughes, now scouting for the Boston Red Sox. “He’s got a long-traveled road to get to where he is. But he figured it out.”The road took a turn in 2009 when shoulder pain led to labrum surgery. Hill dropped his arm slot to a sidearm delivery in order to compensate for the pain and he moved to the bullpen where he thought he might spend the rest of his career as a lefty specialist.“As soon as I went to the bullpen, when I started doing it, it felt natural throwing from down there and I was good at it,” Hill said. “So it was, ‘Maybe this is what I’m going to do.’”It wasn’t what he wanted to do. Hill said he always wanted to get back to being a starting pitcher even as he bounced from Baltimore to Boston to Cleveland to the Angels (where he faced four batters, walked three, gave up a hit to the other and was released after two appearances in 2014) to the Yankees and to the Washington Nationals, returning from Tommy John surgery along the way.Hill credits two people – both in the Red Sox organization – for helping him rediscover himself. The first was former Red Sox athletic trainer Mike Reinold who Hill says helped him rebuild his shoulder, making him strong enough to throw over the top again. But it wasn’t until last year when Hill requested his release from the Nationals’ Triple-A team and signed with the Long Island Ducks that he went back to that delivery. It worked well enough for him to make two starts for the Ducks, allowing no runs and only two hits while striking out 21 in 11 innings for the independent team.That earned him a contract for a second go-round with the Red Sox. This time, he met up with Brian Bannister. The former big-leaguer had become the Red Sox director of pitching analysis and development. Hill credits Bannister for opening his eyes to the secrets to be found in analytics and a new approach to pitching.Hitters had never been able to handle Hill’s curveball. Hill knew this and the analytics reinforced it. So why not throw it more often, Bannister asked?“He opened my eyes to pitching to what you do best,” Hill said. “He just kind of reinforced it that the data shows it – the more breaking balls you throw the more effective everything is going to be.“Now we start talking about perceptual velocity on my fastball, changing shape off the breaking ball, changing speed of the breaking ball, changing speed of the fastball, accelerating and decelerating through the zone. How do you pitch with that? For me, it all made sense. That’s how I had been pitching before but I had been going along the path of trying to do it conventionally instead of going, ‘No. This is what I do best. I know what I do best. Let me be creative.’”Since returning as a starter with the Red Sox and A’s over the past two seasons, Hill has thrown his curveball well over 40 percent of the time. His strikeout rate has jumped along with his soft-contact percentage and the number of line drives he allows has dropped. His swing-and-miss rate – always strong – is among the best in baseball.For a year and a half in his mid-30s, Hill has been one of the best starting pitchers in the majors. But a year and a half – shortened even further by a groin injury and his current blister issues – is not a large sample size.“It’s not. But it’s also not a year and a half where you wonder how he’s doing it,” Zaidi said. “You see the curveball. You see that hitters just cannot square it up. He gets a lot of swings and misses. Admittedly, it’s not a long track record of performance but the visual sort of matches the results.”Hill is old enough that his manager recalls facing him when he was winning 11 games for the Cubs in 2007 and Dave Roberts was winding down his playing career with the Giants. That Hill has found himself so deep in his career does not shock Roberts.“Justin Turner didn’t become a top player until deep into his career,” Roberts said, citing another player who has found his best days in his 30s. “It happens at different times for different players.”. “The problem is everything in between.”Zaidi chuckles, knowing just how much “everything in between” encompasses – six teams in 10 seasons, shoulder surgery, Tommy John surgery, a successful life as a LOOGY, a not-so-successful life as a LOOGY, a brief incarnation as a Duck (of the independent Long Island Ducks), more starts in the minors than he has made in the majors and a personal tragedy.Hill has only recently emerged as “from a pure performance standpoint … as good as any starter out there,” as Zaidi puts it. Acquired by the Dodgers to be the “top-end starter” they lack with Kershaw injured and will need if they are to make a postseason run, Hill has been unable to pitch for them – or at all since the tip of his middle finger ripped open on July 17 – due to blister issues. That they have played so well over the past six weeks with precious few quality efforts from a starting pitcher allows them to be patient with Hill.Patience is a quality with which Hill is familiar.“I don’t think it’s a question of how I became so good so late (in his career),” Hill said. “I think it’s, finally you’re healthy and you’ve always been good. If that makes sense.