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Rich Hill starts his spring in a familiar spot

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MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers-Workout Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX — Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill made his spring debut of sorts on Wednesday, pitching three simulated innings against minor league hitters on the back fields at Camelback Ranch.

The choice to make his first start of the spring on the back fields rather than in a Cactus League game was Hill’s.

“It’s efficient, to be able to have a controlled environment in the beginning where you can experiment a little bit more,” HIll said. “I don’t really like going out there in games trying to experiment when you are trying to compete and get guys out.”

Hill threw approximately 42 pitches in his three innings, facing Connor Wong, Garrett Hope, Brock Carpenter and Steve Berman. Even though this was just a simulated game, three innings was the longest outing by a Dodgers pitcher so far this spring.

“You have to build up. It was the first time I got up three times since last year,” Hill said. “The quality was diminished in the third inning, the way pitches were coming out. But overall I felt the ball came out well.”

Since returning from independent baseball and finding his career second wind in 2015 Hill has a 2.65 ERA in 49 starts, and his 157 ERA+ ranks second in baseball during that span, trailing only teammate Clayton Kershaw.

But even new, rejuvenated Hill hasn’t been able to crack the Cactus League code. In the last two springs combined — 2016 with the A’s and 2017 with the Dodgers — Hill has allowed 27 runs in 28 innings, with 30 walks.

This spring feels better, says Hill, thanks to throwing earlier in the offseason and staying sharp in the process.

“It was just release point and mechanics. Those are in line right now and I feel really good,” Hill said. “This year is much different than the last two years. I feel everything is running a lot cleaner and smoother.”

Hill said his next outing would likely be a Cactus League game, and that he’d like to pitch at least three innings, if not four.

“The next time out is to be determined,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We’ll kind of leave it in his hands.”