The Dodgers made official on Thursday what was expected two days ago but not yet finalized, until now — Rich Hill will start the deciding Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the Nationals on three days rest.
Hill threw 82 pitches in his Game 2 start on Sunday, one that saw him strike out seven in the first three (scoreless) innings, only to be pulled after 4⅓ innings after allowing four runs, including a stunning three-run home run from light-hitting catcher Jose Lobaton that turned the game, and possibly the series, around.
Hill has never pitched in three days rest in his career, save for one appearance that qualified in the most pedantic way possible — a 3-inning start that followed four days after a relief appearance of four batters back in 2009.
Coupled with Clayton Kershaw’s start in Game 4, this is the first time the Dodgers have started pitchers on three days rest in back-to-back postseason games since Tim Belcher and Orel Hershiser started Games 4-5 of the 1988 World Series. The only other Dodgers playoff start on three days rest between then and the four straight years of Kershaw starts on short rest was Derek Lowe, who pitched in Game 5 of the 2008 NLCS four days after starting in Game 1.
Thursday for the Dodgers is a Johnny Wholestaff day, with potentially eight pitchers at least to back up Hill, including Julio Urias, who has yet to be used in this series.
“It's going to be a collection of arms,” manager Dave Roberts said after Tuesday’s win.
Also available to pitch are all seven relievers on the Dodgers’ NLDS roster, especially after Wednesday’s off day. Even including Kenley Jansen’s implosion on Monday and the seventh-inning giveback on Tuesday, the Dodgers bullpen has been effective in the NLDS so far, and busy too.
The seven pitchers have combined for 20 appearances and 16 innings, an average of five pitchers to get four innings each game, and have produced a 2.81 ERA with 22 strikeouts and six walks. Washington batters are hitting just .167/.270/.278 against the Dodgers bullpen through four games of this series.
Now the question remains just how many pitchers will the Dodgers use to get through Game 5, especially with expected shortened outings from Hill and/or Urias?
The Dodgers were 13-10 (.565) in games that they used at least seven pitchers during the regular season. The rest of MLB was 112-120 (.483) in such games.
The Dodgers franchise record for pitchers used in a single postseason game is eight, and that was set way back ... on Monday, in Game 3.
Before that, the record was seven pitchers used, which happened in Games 4 and 5 of the 2008 NLCS against the Phillies — both losses — and Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS, the latter a 12-inning win over the Mets that saw Orel Hershiser record the final out for a save, one day after he threw 112 pitches in seven innings as the starter.
While the 2016 season has been bizarre and unconventional as all get out, we haven’t quite reached “Hershiser getting a save” territory yet in this postseason. But Game 5 has a chance to hurtle the Dodgers toward that direction, especially if they are able to advance and we find out just what that Brock Stewart bullpen session on Tuesday really means.
But first things first — nine hands on deck for Game 5 on Thursday.