There was a lot of pressure on Rich Hill when he took the mound Tuesday night at Petco Park. He was coming off an injury-shortened return from the 60-day injured list and remains hopeful to earn a spot on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ postseason roster.
In his Sept. 12 outing against the Baltimore Orioles, Hill left after just 0.2 innings due to a left knee strain. The issue did not sideline Hill for as long as some anticipated, and he hardly missed a beat by continuing to throw off flat ground and in bullpen sessions.
There was plenty of optimism heading into the series finale against the San Diego Padres, but that quickly gave way to some concern. Hill struck out the first batter faced, only to follow that by issuing consecutive walks.
His body language and walks around the mound suggested pain was present in the troublesome knee.
But he wound up escaping the jam and then came out in the second and struck out the side, finishing with five strikeouts overall in two shutout innings to give him 1,000 for his career.
Hill then went to throw another inning in the bullpen to build up his pitch count, finishing off what was a really solid night that also included a double down the left-field line in his only at-bat.
After the game, Hill maintained he is healthy and explained there were only a couple instances of pain in his left knee, as seen on SportsNet LA:
“Just feeling healthy, I think that was the biggest thing. And executing pitches when I needed to. I felt good, the ball was coming out pretty good. I expect it to get better this Sunday against the Giants.
“A couple times my knee kind of gets in a funky position a little bit and kind of gets caught. Other than that, after one or two times it happened, I was able to pitch through that and pitch well. You’re going to have some tough issues to pitch through and when you’re faced with them you’ve got to either do it or not do it.”
As Hill noted, he is expected to make one final start in the Dodgers’ final game of the season. He did so last year — also in San Francisco — at the time without any health concern but the Dodgers needing a win to force a Game 163.
Now health takes precedent. He could expand his pitch count to three or four innings in that one and if he comes out of it without any trouble, it would not be that surprising if the Dodgers use him as their fourth starter in the postseason.
Hill wouldn’t be able to give them the length of a traditional starter but with a variety of multi-inning options in the bullpen, length is not all that necessary.
Hill has been outstanding for the Dodgers in past Octobers, pitching to a 2.66 ERA in 11 postseason games (10 starts).