Rich Hill, the Dodgers’ key acquisition at the non-waiver trade deadline this season, makes his second career postseason start and his first since 2007, when he was with the Cubs. And when he takes the mound on Saturday afternoon in Game 2 of the NLDS, he will be pitching against one of his former teams.
In example No. 8,346 of “You never know” in baseball, Hill spent the first three months of 2015 in the Nationals system, on a minor league contract and pitching in relief for Triple-A Syracuse. He had a decent-enough 2.91 ERA in 25 appearances and an impressive 32 strikeouts in 21⅔ innings. But he also had 21 walks, and was released in June.
“I was at home for about a month, and you know, working out with the American Legion team that I grew up playing for. You know, playing catch every day, working out,” Hill explained on Friday. “I threw a couple longer bullpens -- it wasn't until a couple of weeks that I was at home that I decided to start changing my arm angle and throwing over the top again.
“I felt strong. I was able to repeat, repeat, and be consistent with my release point. So I threw a few 75-pitch bullpens, and made the decision to go to Long Island and start again. And made two starts there, felt good. Body felt strong. Was able to repeat my delivery. Was able to have the ball come out of my hand the way that I wanted to for those two starts.”
After two starts with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, Hill got a minor league deal with the Red Sox, and was called up to make four starts in September.
Since then, in 24 major league starts, Hill is 14-6 with a 2.00 ERA, with 165 strikeouts and 38 walks in 139⅓ innings.
There are 193 major league pitchers to have made at least 20 starts in 2015-16 combined, and Hill’s 2.00 ranks second, behind only his teammate Clayton Kershaw (1.96), who started Saturday. Hill’s park-and-league-adjusted 202 ERA+ ranks first.
Hill had a 1.83 ERA in six starts with the Dodgers, with 39 strikeouts and five walks in 34⅓ innings.
The 36-year-old Hill, who has played for eight different major league teams and 10 different major league organizations, has developed a unique philosophy that has served him well over the last 14 months or so.
“I just carried over that same, stay-in-the-moment, pitch-to-pitch process of having the ball come out of my hand the way that I want it to,” Hill said at his Friday press conference. “I knew that if I did that, and I know now, today, if I continue to do that, a percentage of the success are going to fall more in your favor than not.”
Game 2 info
Series: Dodgers lead Nationals, 1-0
Where: Nationals Park, Washington D.C.
Time: 1:08 p.m. PT
TV: Fox Sports 1 (Kenny Albert, Tom Verudcci, Harold Reynolds, Jon Morosi)
Local radio: 570 AM (Charley Steiner and Rick Monday)
National radio: ESPN Radio (Dave O’Brien, Jim Bowden)