With the Los Angeles Dodgers closing in on a seventh consecutive National League West title, arguably their most-pressing obstacle at present time is determining a potential Game 4 starter for the postseason.
Heading into the season, the Dodgers appeared to have a clear top four in Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill. However, Hill’s strained flexor tendon in his left forearm threw the rotation off course.
Days after Dodgers manager Dave Roberts deemed it unlikely Hill would have ample time to build back up as a starter, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said it remained a possibility. Now, indications are the Dodgers anticipate Hill starting in October.
“I think that right now, our expectation is to have Rich take on that role. But obviously as you’re in rehab mode, nothing is guaranteed; even with a healthy player. So if we have to pivot from that, it’s another conversation.
“That’s why it’s essential we keep certain guys built up to fill that role. But I think as we sit here today, Rich is a guy we’re expecting to take on that.”
In addition to Hill, the Dodgers are stretching out Julio Urias while he serves a suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy. Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May are also believed to be candidates.
Hill has made steady progress in his rehab process and recent examination of the flexor tendon revealed it to be in good standing. He is expected to throw a bullpen session Thursday as the next step in the recovery.
Although the Dodgers are optimistic, Roberts did acknowledge there’s some uncertainty with how much of a progression Hill can complete. “What stretched out means, I think that can be debated,” Roberts said.
“Every day, from what we’ve seen, he keeps getting markedly better. Let’s just hope he continues to build up arm strength, mix in that breaking ball, and whatever the number is at the end of September, we can then evaluate.”
Roberts added Hill’s projection of returning during the first or second week of September was “fair.” Roberts continued that the Dodgers have “tailored something that will allow for simulated games to get him back on a Major League field. That’s all contingent on how he’s progressing.”
In the event it’s determined Hill will pitch out of the bullpen during the postseason, he’s already expressed a complete willingness to assume any role asked of him.