This past Saturday, September 10th, Rich Hill was pitching a gem of a game. Hill pitched seven innings, dishing out nine K’s without giving up either a hit or walk. Hill was on the verge of throwing a perfect game, with only two innings left and sitting at only 89 pitches going into the 8th inning. Yet, amidst the potential perfection, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled Hill in favor of a reliever fresh from the pen. The move drew the ire of fans post game, as the feat of a perfect game has only occurred twenty-three times in major league history and Hill was only six outs away.
Roberts did not pull Hill simply because he wanted to ruin Hill’s perfect game chances, but actually had legitimate reasons for doing so. Rich Hill has spent the past month and a half battling painful blisters on his throwing hand, making only three starts since July 17th. Every inning during the perfect performance, a trainer checked Hill’s hand to make sure the blisters were not becoming worse. The blister’s condition was the true reason Roberts pulled Hill despite his historic performance.
The situation Roberts was put in was a lose-lose situation. Leaving Hill in there could lead to another DL, or season ending stint for Hill due to inflammation of the blisters. How would Dodgers fan react if their trade deadline acquisition was going to miss the rest of the season/the playoffs because of overuse, especially since there was no guarantee that Hill could have closed out the final two innings of the game perfectly? The truth is, nobody will ever know, but what we do know is that Hill may still have a shot at pitching for the Dodgers come playoffs time, as the Dodgers currently reside in first place of the NL West with a four game lead.
Hill’s career, historically, has seen a lot of bouncing around various clubs. Hill started in the rotation for the Cubs before bouncing back and forth between rotation and bullpen for the Orioles, Red Sox, Indians, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox again, Athletics and finally the Dodgers. Hill pitched well as a reliever, but was never really used in high leverage situations, never recording a save. 2016, however, has seen a new Hill rise from the ashes of the old one, as he started fourteen games for the Athletics, amassing an ERA of only 2.25. Hill was one of the few bright spots on the Athletics team, which led to Athletics’ GM Billy Beane moving him at the deadline for prospects.
The blister issue was known before the trade was finalized, but the Dodgers were paying for the potential Hill could provide to the rotation once healthy. The Dodgers’ rotation has been decimated by injuries already, but even healthy, Hill could still slot in to the middle of the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda. The truth is, there is no guarantee that Hill’s blisters will subside by the postseason, but monitoring and being conservative with them can give the best opportunity to help the Dodgers in the long run.
Perfect games are a rarity in baseball, with the idea of twirling one a fantasy for about all pitchers in the modern game. Rich Hill came close, going seven perfect innings for the Dodgers before being pulled after 89 pitches by the manager Dave Roberts. Roberts made the right call, however, for the good of the team, despite the backlash from baseball fans nationwide. If saving Hill’s throwing hand for two innings now can lead to two more innings in the playoffs, then I’d say it is worth it for the Dodgers, especially if he keeps pitching the way he has been all season. I mean, just check out how nasty of a curveball Hill can unleash
All stats courtesy of baseball reference