The Dodgers knew Jason Schmidt had a torn rotator cuff when they signed him in 2006 for three years and $47 million. Schmidt had pitched effectively the previous season and the Dodgers bet he could continue to do so.
They were wrong. Schmidt won three games in those years.
The Dodgers knew Rich Hill had recurrent blister trouble when they signed him in December for three years and $48 million. Hill had pitched effectively the previous season and the Dodgers bet he could continue to do so.
The early returns are not encouraging. Hill has started two games, and that blister has flared up each time. He lasted only three innings in the Dodgers’ 3-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.
The Dodgers are expected to put Hill on the disabled list Monday, for the second time this season and the third time since they acquired him from the Oakland Athletics eight months ago, each time because of a blister riddle for which Hill and the Dodgers have found no solution.
The middle finger of his pitching hand is the key to controlling his signature curve ball. Hill cannot really make do without that finger, although the reporter for the Dodgers’ team-owned television station jokingly suggested that as a treatment option.
“I’m being facetious, but do you want to amputate it at this point?” Alanna Rizzo said to Hill.
Hill managed a thin smile.
“At this point, all joking aside, there’s got to be some kind of medical miracle out there,” Hill said.
Hill joked before his first playoff start last fall about a variety of cures pitched to him — glue, vinegar, even urine. He pitched Sunday with what manager Dave Roberts called “protective ointment,” and yet the blister cracked in the second inning — not when Hill was pitching, but when he was swinging a bat in the on-deck circle.
If there is a reliable treatment, it is difficult to imagine Hill and the Dodgers have not tried it.
“I’m not 100% sure if there’s anything else we haven’t uncovered,” Hill said.
So the frustration was readily evident Sunday. The Dodgers had given Hill 10 days on the DL to rest. Hill completed a bullpen session without trouble. He played catch without trouble.
And then the Dodgers activated him, even as they demoted outfielder Trayce Thompson so they could have eight relievers ready to back Hill. They needed five, and they cannot go on like that.
“Every time he takes the mound, the uncertainty is tough on everybody,” Roberts said. “We thought 10 days was enough. Apparently it wasn’t.”
The next step figures to be a longer stay on the DL, for rest and for the finger to develop a callous. Roberts said the Dodgers might need Hill to go on a minor league rehabilitation assignment so they can be confident he can complete a start without a blister interruption.
“That direction makes sense,” Roberts said.
The Dodgers lavished more money on Hill than any other starting pitcher got in free agency last offseason, and Roberts sounded so frustrated that he would not rule out moving Hill to the bullpen.
“He’s not built for that,” Roberts said, “but Rich is all about doing what’s best for the team. I think it’s worthy of a conversation. It wouldn’t be as devastating if something flared up.”
If the Dodgers knew that the blister would be more likely to flare up after, say, 50 pitches, the bullpen might be a viable option. But Roberts said they aren’t sure what triggers the blister.
“Day, night, sea level, the opponent, the number of pitches,” he said, “we don’t know.”
That left Hill answering all the same questions, without any answers.
“I just can’t believe,” he said, “I’m standing here talking about a blister.”
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