The Los Angeles Dodgers have arguably the best starting rotation in baseball. However, since late June, they have been missing one of their key veteran leaders in Rich Hill.
Hill has not pitched since June 19 due to a flexor strain in his left forearm. He is not expected back until September at the earliest. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had initially maintained Hill could return as a starter despite time beginning to run short.
However, Roberts all but confirmed on Sunday that Hill would likely come out of the bullpen when healthy. “To kind of be so optimistic that we can build him up as a starter to 100 pitches, I just don’t see that being feasible,” Roberts said.
While Hill would prefer to start, he seems in step with the Dodgers’ mentality of sacrificing a bigger role in order to help the team win.
“Either way (starting or relieving), I want to get back to pitching,” Hill said prior to Roberts’ announcement. “Any way to help. Obviously, I think starting would be the priority. But, again, it all depends on how this is going to play out time-wise.”
Hill has barely pitched out of the bullpen since his late-career resurgence with the Boston Red Sox in 2015. The Massachusetts native then signed a one-year deal with the Oakland Athletics in 2016 and was traded to the Dodgers midseason, then re-signed with L.A. in the winter.
Before then, Hill had gone from a top Chicago Cubs pitching prospect to an oft-injured journeyman reliever who had trouble sticking on Major League rosters. He has made only one relief appearance since 2015.
However, putting Hill in their bullpen could bolster the Dodgers’ biggest need as a wipeout left-handed relief pitcher with a strong track record of retiring same-side batters. But not even Hill knows whether he would be capable of going back to pitching in short bursts on back-to-back days.
“That’s something else we would have to find out, too,” Hill acknowledged. “So we’ll have to make that decision at some point if we’re in mid-September and it’s like, ‘Alright, look, we can only get you to three innings. We’re not build up enough.’ Maybe in those 10 to 11 days that are in there, do a back-to-back.”
The Dodgers attempted to trade for Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star closer Felipe Vazquez in order to fill their left-handed relief void before the July 31 trade deadline. However, talks did not gain much traction when the Dodgers refused to include top prospects Gavin Lux and Dustin May.
They instead acquired Adam Kolarek from the Tampa Bay Rays. Julio Urias has also been solid in a long-relief role but could get built back up as a starter to take Hill’s place in the rotation.