Rich Hill returned from the injured list last night. The plan was for him to two innings in hopes of building him up for postseason action. He struck out the first two batters he faced and looked like vintage Rich Hill. Then, as Vin Scully used to say, “The best laid plans...”
Hill’s next four hitters went as such: hit by pitch, walk, hit by pitch, walk. He was done after that thanks to a sprained left knee. It’s unfortunate, but if you’re looking for any kind of silver lining, just be thankful it wasn’t his elbow. However, this does create a bit of a conundrum for the Dodgers.
This doesn’t eliminate Hill from being on the postseason roster, but the last time he had a knee issue was in spring training, and that cost him the first four weeks of the season. For the purposes of this article, let’s just count Hill out for at least the National League Division Series.
With Kenta Maeda already moved into the bullpen, the No. 4 spot in the Dodgers’ postseason rotation is up for grabs, and it’ll probably be up for grabs for more than one pitcher (and more than one pitcher in a game).
I opined last month that a Hill-Dustin May combo could be awfully intriguing. It was trending that direction (well, maybe with Tony Gonsolin in place of May) before last night. Now, the candidates are Gonsolin, May, Ross Stripling and Julio Urias. There could be far worse options than this quartet.
Three of the four are likely to make the postseason roster, with an outside chance of all four making it. As it stands now, you couple pair any of the four together and probably not go wrong. Urias is the best of the four, so I’d expect him to get a shot (even if it leaves the Dodgers a little light on lefties in the bullpen). If he’s paired with a Gonsolin or May, that could be interesting. Stripling seems to work as a long man for the other three games, should Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw or Hyun-Jin Ryu falter in their starts.
The thing that is risky regarding this plan is two-fold:
- Putting pitchers in unfamiliar roles
- Putting increased pressure and reliance on rookie pitchers
Any way you look at it, there isn’t a truly ideal situation for the Dodgers. Ideally, Hill never got hurt and has that spot on lockdown. Ideally, Urias didn’t do what he was accused of and is cementing himself as one of the best young pitchers in baseball. Maeda pitches better to avoid being jettisoned to the bullpen. And so on.
For a team with championship aspirations — especially after the last two years — they might have to lean heavily on their Top 3 starters, the bullpen and the offense. If two of those three things are clicking, it may not matter who the Dodgers’ No. 4 playoff starter is.