Hill starts G4: 'He competes like no one else'

Roberts going with veteran left-hander in potential series clincher

October 7th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- will start for the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Monday. Manager Dave Roberts was rather firm about that, long before Game 3 turned on the Dodgers’ seven-run sixth inning and became a 10-4 win over the Nationals on Sunday.

But how deep into the night will Hill remain on the hill? The answer to that follow-up depends on several factors beyond the obvious matter of Hill’s performance:

  1. His health and stamina: He has thrown all of 5 2/3 innings since June 19 because of left forearm and left knee injuries.
  1. The status of the series: The Dodgers are playing for a spot in the NL Championship Series for the fourth straight season, and they will be balancing a desire to close out the NLDS and align their pitching for the next round while knowing that Game 4 is not the last game of the year.
  1. The status of the bullpen: Roberts covered the final four innings of Game 3 with relievers, including Joe Kelly, who did not pitch well, and Kenley Jansen, who struck out a pair in a perfect ninth. How many relievers required in that game would have a carryover effect to Game 4, especially since it appears the Dodgers do not intend to use Walker Buehler out of the bullpen on short rest. Buehler threw a bullpen session Sunday in advance of a start in a potential Game 5.

Roberts and his staff have plenty to mull, but Hill will get the ball first.

“We're prepared, Rich is prepared,” Roberts said. “Obviously, how we manage tomorrow is kind of dictated on today, but the plan is to have Rich start.”

Hill will start opposite Nationals ace Max Scherzer while pitching in the postseason for the fourth straight year, which is a rather remarkable thing. In 2015 Spring Training, Hill was Scherzer’s teammate as a non-roster invitee to Washington’s camp bidding for a bullpen spot. Hill missed the cut and stewed in Triple-A for a time before opting out of his deal in June and landing with Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League.

You probably know what happened next. Hill pitched well and caught the eye of the Red Sox, then pitched well enough in Boston to get a one-year deal with the A’s, then pitched well enough in Oakland to land a four-year, $48 million contract with the Dodgers that expires after this year’s World Series.

Hill turns 40 in March, but he insisted he isn’t thinking ahead. And he said his desire to make it back from his injuries in time to pitch this October was not motivated by the uncertainty of what’s next in his career.

“The motivating factor to come back is [that] I believe that I have something to give and I can help this team win,” Hill said. “I'm not really using any outside factors, other than the moment in what I really enjoy doing. I think that's the main factor. I love the competition part of this.”

Hill’s availability to compete was in question at several points in September. After his forearm healed, Hill returned Sept. 12 against the Orioles, but he didn’t make it through the first inning because of left knee pain, which Hill feared was a recurrence of an MCL sprain suffered in the spring.

An MRI scan provided good news, however. The discomfort was associated with the break-up of scar tissue, and Hill could continue his comeback. He threw 35 pitches against the Padres on Sept. 24 and 49 pitches against the Giants on Sept. 29 in preparation for Monday.

“There was never a doubt in my mind that I wouldn't get back,” Hill said. “I think I was fortunate that it was just scar tissue and it wasn't a bigger injury.”

There is a chance this marks Hill’s final start in a Dodgers uniform, but they will try to extend his journey a little longer.

“It resonates with a lot of different ... a lot of our players and coaches,” Roberts said. “What he's been through, his story, it's a great story. And I try to impress upon our guys that nothing's guaranteed, and show gratitude with what we have, the opportunities that we have created that are here. So Rich can kind of echo a lot of my thoughts -- the successes, the failures, the outside looking in, that kind of stuff. He's very passionate, very emotional. There's a lot of ways to describe Rich Hill, but he really cares and he competes like no one else.”

Hill will face a Nationals team facing elimination.

“All hands on deck tomorrow,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said. “We are going to come out, we're going to fight and those guys know what we're playing for and we want to go to L.A. That's all this means. I told them that's all this means is we would have to go to L.A. again.”