Free of headaches and everything else associated with post-concussion syndrome, Aaron Hill has again been thrust into a huge role in his fourth full season with the Toronto Blue Jays.
The second baseman has been anointed the club's No. 2 hitter for this season, setting the table for power bats Alex Rios and cleanup hitter Vernon Wells.
Hill, who had his 2008 campaign derailed by a concussion suffered in a May 29 game at Oakland, entered this season with a career .271 batting average and .335 on-base percentage in 50 games in the No. 2 hole.
After singling in four at-bats and standing out defensively in a season-opening 12-5 win against Detroit, he erased a 3-1 deficit on Tuesday night with a three-run home run to left field in the eighth inning that propelled Toronto to a 5-4 decision.
"I didn't think it [the ball] was going out," said Hill, who likely will bat second in Game 3 of the four-game series on Wednesday (7:07 p.m. ET). "They must have turned the [air conditioner] on or something [inside the Rogers Centre]."
During spring training, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said he liked the right-handed hitting Hill's ability to take pitches the other way and advance runners on base, characteristics often linked to a No. 2 hitter.
"I want him to just take it on and be himself, as he has in the past," said Gaston, referring to Hill's placement in the batting order. "Really, if you look around, who would you put in the two spot?"
17 homers in 2007
The five-foot-11, 205-pound Hill spent some time in the second slot in the 2007 season in which he hit .291 in 160 games with 17 homers and 78 runs batted in.
In his first three-plus major league seasons, Hill has spent the most time batting seventh (102 games) and eighth (104), but that's too low in the manager's mind.
"He can hit the ball the other way," Gaston said. "He pretty much stays up the [power] alleys, but he can go the other way with the ball. I think that's a good spot for him to hit out of."
So far, Gaston has hit the jackpot with his entire lineup, which has produced 17 runs and 20 hits in two games after ranking 10th in the 14-team American League in 2008 in average (.264) and home runs (129).
Third baseman Scott Rolen added a solo shot in the eighth inning Tuesday and catcher Rod Barajas drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth.
"Early on last year we didn't do a good job of that and I didn't want that trend to start this year, too," said Barajas. "In that situation, you want to get the run in any way possible — it doesn't matter how it gets in. Fortunately, I got a pitch I was able to hit far enough."
The Blue Jays could assure themselves of a series win Wednesday and will send right-hander Jesse Litsch to the mound. A 13-game winner last season, he fashioned a 7-3 record and 2.77 earned-run average at home.
Gaston likes look of Litsch
While Litsch finished the 2008 campaign with just one win and a 6.12 ERA over his final nine outings, Gaston likes the right-hander's makeup.
"He's tough.… He's been through the war before [unlike fellow rookie hurlers Scott Richmond and Ricky Romero]. He started the season last year 7-1 and then struggled," Gaston said.
Litsch will be matched up against Tigers righty Zach Miner, a career 9-8 with a 3.14 ERA in 53 road appearances. He posted 8-5, 4.27 totals in 45 games last season, including 13 starts.
David Purcey, the sophomore lefty being counted on for big things in the Blue Jays rotation, opened his season with a strong seven innings on Tuesday, allowing three runs (two earned), although his final frame was a little messy.
Trailing 1-0, Purcey gave up a pair of runs in the seventh inning, one of them during a comical sequence. With runners on second and third and a run in on Marcus Thames's run-scoring double, Purcey was attempting to intentionally walk Brandon Inge when he threw a ball over Barajas's head.
Former Tampa Bay Ray Edwin Jackson allowed two runs, one earned, on two hits and a walk over 7 1/3 innings in his Tigers debut.