Hill reinjures knee in return from forearm strain

Veteran lefty exits in 1st after attempting to pitch through it

September 13th, 2019

BALTIMORE -- As the Dodgers made their ascension to a seventh consecutive National League West crown -- setting myriad records along the way -- has had to stomach injuries forcing him to observe from the sidelines.

It's what made him all the more eager for Thursday, his first start since June 19. He's already been a part of this team for three stretch runs. He's not going to miss out on the fourth -- if he can help it.

But the Dodgers head into the final weeks of September unsure of what they have left in the 39-year-old Hill, who exited Thursday's 4-2 win over the Orioles with an injury to his left MCL -- the same one that sidelined him with a Grade 1 strain in Spring Training.

"We hadn't had any signs of that leading up to this outing," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "You could see some time after that second hitter, it just started to go down as far as velocity, command. You could see him compensating a little bit, so we had to get him out."

Roberts said it's too soon to know how much Hill will be available this season. After the Dodgers arrive in New York early Friday morning -- and Hill can undergo more tests -- the outlook should gain clarity.

The original plan had been for Hill pitch two innings on Thursday and add more innings next Wednesday, as the club looked to build him back up as a starter for October.

At first glance on Thursday, it was an auspicious start for the lefty, who struck out the first two batters he faced on eight pitches -- well before the Dodgers scored the go-ahead runs on a bizarre passed-ball strikeout in the sixth inning.

But it was that eighth pitch -- a 75 mph curveball that got Jonathan Villar to whiff -- where Hill felt the knee buckle.

After that point, Hill's four-seamer -- which was sitting around 90-91 mph -- did not reach 90 again. He proceeded to hit two batters -- both with curveballs -- and walk a pair -- the latter of which scored a run -- before escaped the jam.

"After that the last curveball on the second hitter, I felt my knee kind grab and then tried to stupidly pitch through it," Hill said. "I worked hard to get back and felt great -- felt the ball coming out really, really well for the first two hitters. And it was short-lived."

The Dodgers entered Thursday with their sights set on getting Hill four starts to build up before October. Whatever availability he has going forward -- potentially as a reliever -- will impact that process.

The coming week will likely decide whether it's Hill or -- who's also being stretched out and pitched a scoreless eighth inning on Thursday -- that ultimately becomes their potential Game 4 starter in the NL Division Series.

But solace for Hill comes in the fact that his left forearm -- the latest ailment to keep him out months -- did not flare up. He also reported not feeling as much pain in the knee as he did during Spring Training, when the MCL forced him to miss the first four weeks of the season. And even after he felt the knee flare up, he didn't think it would do any further harm by trying to pitch through it.

"That's what kind of caught everybody off guard," Hill said. "Didn't have any issues with my knee at all. Having that happen tonight is just really disappointing."

Hill is now left to ponder once again that he might not be there to help the Dodgers come October. Thursday was a manifestation of that worry. He knows far too much about what it's like to be on the periphery this year and feels the need to make up for lost time.

Hill just wants to pitch.

"It's just part of the competitive nature of being out there and wanting to compete and pitch," he said. "That's what we get paid to do and that's all I want to do -- is to go out there and contribute. Unfortunately, it's another bump in the road. Hopefully it's not too major."