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Toronto Blue Jays infielder Aaron Hill, centre, leaves the field during spring training in Dunedin, FL, on Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette (Nathan Denette)
Toronto Blue Jays infielder Aaron Hill, centre, leaves the field during spring training in Dunedin, FL, on Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette (Nathan Denette)

Robert MacLeod

Hill, Lind try to bounce back for Blue Jays Add to ...

Two seasons ago Adam Lind and Aaron Hill rejoiced together during an unforgettable year where the hits just kept on coming.

Last season was just as memorable, but for all the wrong reasons, as the pair stumbled badly at the plate and watched their offensive production dip to embarrassing levels.

"I can't remember exactly what I hit, but I know it was above .200," Hill remarked rather sheepishly. "Thank goodness for that small mercy."

Hill wound up hitting a paltry .205 - 81 points below what he averaged a season earlier when the second baseman enjoyed an all-star season, launching 36 home runs that helped him drive in 108 runs.

And Lind was right with him, his average down to .237 after hitting .305 the year before along with 35 home runs and 114 RBI. He struck out 144 times in 2010, the fifth highest total among American League hitters.

"We'd just look at each other every once and a while and shake our heads and say 'What's that?' " Hill noted about those dark days.

Spring training officially started for pitchers and catchers here on Monday.

Although the position players don't have to show up until Friday, Hill and Lind are among two of the early birds already on hand, eager to get going and anxious to atone for their miseries of a year ago.

The Blue Jays have lost considerable punch from their home run-happy 2010 lineup with the loss of Vernon Wells, John Buck and Lyle Overbay.

New manager John Farrell said he is counting heavily on both Lind and Hill to rebound and help pick up the offence.

"You're talking about two guys that have had a lot of success at the big league level already," Farrell said. "We're of the thought that last year was the outlier and that the return to their normal production is ahead of them."

Both Lind and Hill were guilty last season of swinging at too many pitches out of the strike zone.

One website that tracks such data, fangraphs.com, calculated that Lind swung at 34.6 per cent of the pitches that were outside of the strike zone, an increase of almost 10 points over the previous year.

Hill's rate was also up by almost five points to 31.3 per cent.

Farrell said that it is a common issue with hitters who are struggling.

"They have a tendency to be a little bit over-anxious, not as trusting with the strike zone," he said. "And they begin to chase some pitches outside the zone. And that was the case with each guy."

Both players are vowing to be more selective at the plate this season.

Hill said 2010 was a strange season overall what with the Blue Jays thumping a franchise-record 257 home runs overall to lead the majors.

Swinging for the fences all the time was a lot of fun, Hill admitted.

But he said it often left some of the hitters, himself included, feeling a bit conflicted when that was the only offensive aspect to the game that former manager Cito Gaston seemed to embrace.

"There were times - a man on second, no outs," Hill said. "A lot of times as a hitter, even myself, [I was thinking]should I bunt this guy over?

"And you look back [to the dugout]and they're giving me the swing sign."

Along with working to get his swing back in a groove, Lind is also learning a new position at first base after being the team's designated hitter.

It is by no means an easy transition. Of the position players, only the catcher will handle the ball on more occasions than the first baseman.

"It's a basic position as far as what you need to accomplish," Lind said. "You have to turn all the plays; as long as you block the ball, you still have a good chance to get an out."



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