Heroics from Hill, Freese secure Dodgers sweep

June 3rd, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- On a team full of impressive young talent, it was a pair of veterans that led the way for the Dodgers on Sunday, one on the mound and one in the batter’s box.

was masterful in holding the Phillies scoreless for seven innings, and , who entered the game as defensive replacement in the fifth, homered and drove in a pair of runs in an 8-0, sweep-securing victory.

Hill struck out nine Phillies batters while limiting them to six baserunners on three hits and three walks, two of which were intentional. He crossed the 100-pitch threshold for the second consecutive start with 103 (75 strikes). He also lowered his ERA on the season to 2.25.

“He was really good today,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “And actually, I thought he was getting better as the game went on. The fastball continued to have that life that we like, and he was just on the attack all day. Kept those guys guessing, and just that feel of his breaking ball today and the fastball played really well.

“To see the consistency of his conviction every time he takes the mound, there’s a lot of confidence right now.”

Part of what made Hill so dominant on Sunday was a season-high 18 swinging strikes, repeatedly fooling batters with his fastball, which reached 90 mph or more multiple times. It’s the most swinging strikes for Hill in a single game since he was with Cleveland in 2013. Only two of Hill’s 61 fastballs thrown were put in play, and neither had an exit velocity of higher than 92.1 mph, according to Statcast. In his 15th Major League season, the 39-year-old seems to keep finding ways to impress.

“You continue to keep working, keep yourself in shape and put the time in,” said Hill of the key to continued success. “Age is really not as big of a factor as everyone thinks it should be.”

Hill exited with the score knotted at zero, but that changed quickly as Freese led off the bottom of the seventh with his sixth home run of the season and second in as many games. Will Smith’s walk-off home run stole the show in Saturday’s 4-3 Dodgers victory, but Freese’s homer was important in setting up that opportunity.

“With David, the way he’s been able to swing the bat has been great,” said Hill. “His defense was tremendous [today] as well.”

Freese, 36, has been mostly relegated to a platoon player/bench role for the Dodgers this year, serving as the club’s primary first baseman against left-handed pitching. When Freese has been called upon, though, he’s gotten the job done. After Sunday’s game, he was batting .294/.423/.576 on the season, with a weighted runs created plus of 166. As a pinch-hitter, Freese is 6-for-14 with three doubles. He has shown commendable flexibility in filling in as needed, sometimes unexpectedly, as on Sunday when subbing in for Matt Beaty who left the game with mild left hip tightness.

“The staff, the Dodgers, they just put me in a really good position,” said Freese. “They understand my age and my body, and they just give you good opportunities to succeed. You can’t thank them enough for that, it’s great.”

Freese has provided the Dodgers with quality production ever since he came to L.A. via trade at the Aug. 31 waiver deadline last season. In 19 regular-season games for the Dodgers in 2018, he batted .385/.489/.641. His hot bat carried into the postseason, when he hit .364/.423/.773 with two homers and six RBIs across 14 games.

“The main thing is that he embraces his role,” Roberts said prior to Sunday’s game. “Every player probably wants more at-bats, but when you accept or embrace it, he’s got clarity, and when he’s called upon, he’s ready to perform.”

Among Dodgers players acquired at the age of 35 or older with a minimum of 60 games played, Freese’s 164 OPS+ with Los Angeles entering play Sunday is topped only by Manny Ramirez, who posted a 171 OPS+ in his age 36-38 seasons with the team. In the later stages of his career, Freese is happy to do what he can for his team.

“I’m 36, I’m about done,” said Freese. “I’m just here for the ride, I’m trying to help out.”

As if Freese’s bat wasn’t enough, he also made a nice play to snag a line drive and rob Bryce Harper of a hit to close the top of the eighth. Freese spent the majority of his 11-season career as a third baseman, but has almost exclusively played first for the Dodgers, and the transition has been pretty seamless.

“It’s cool. It’s fun,” said Freese. “I like mixing it up. I’m chilling over at first. My first-base talk is brutal, but other than that, I’m having a good time over there.”

The Dodgers closed out their 6-1 homestand with an overall record of 41-19. No other team in the National League has more than 34 wins, and the Twins are the only other team to have reached the 40-win mark. This season, the Dodgers got to 41 wins in 60 games; it took them 16 additional games to reach that mark last season.