Rich Hill hunched at the waist and beamed at the Dodgers dugout. He was standing a few steps from first base, an area he rarely visits as a hitter, in the seventh inning of an 8-2 Dodgers victory over the Atlanta Braves. He was ready to run wild on the bases.
“I was thinking about stealing second tonight,” Hill said. “But I thought better of it.”
That gamble was outside the realm of possibility. But little else for Hill was Thursday night. He drove in a run. He scored a run with his 38-year-old legs. And he blanked the Braves for seven innings, dropping his earned-run average to 2.47 since returning from his blister woes in June.
Hill gave up only three singles. He struck out eight. He fooled hitters by lowering his arm slot to weaponize his fastball and curveball.
“Everything seemed to be flowing pretty well,” Hill said.
The same can be said for the rest of the team. Manny Machado hit his first home run as a Dodger. Yasmani Grandal stayed hot, with two hits and two runs batted in. Cody Bellinger scored two runs.
The Dodgers struck first, though the opening salvo did not occur until the fifth inning. The offense benefited from a mistake by former Dodger Charlie Culberson. Playing shortstop, Culberson threw away a grounder from Bellinger, allowing Matt Kemp to take third and Bellinger to reach second.
Kemp scored on a groundout by Chris Taylor. Alex Verdugo dunked a single into left field to drive in Bellinger.
Machado went deep an inning later. He bashed an 88-mph fastball from Braves starter Anibal Sanchez and cleared the left-field fence. Manager Dave Roberts asked a clubhouse attendant to retrieve it for Machado.
“You’ve got to get the first hit, the first home run out of the way,” Machado said. “Now it’s just concentrate on playing baseball and winning games.”
Hill breezed into the sixth inning. Once there, he faced real resistance for the first time. Atlanta mounted a threat after Machado pulled Bellinger off the bag with a wide throw on a two-out grounder. Braves outfielder Nick Markakis walked and brought the tying run to the plate, in the form of catcher Kurt Suzuki.
Suzuki had one of Atlanta’s three hits. Hill challenged him in the zone and picked up two strikes. Suzuki flied out on a 91-mph fastball to strand the two runners.
Hill helped his own cause in the seventh. Verdugo led off with an infield single and took second on an error by Ozzie Albies. Hill cracked an RBI single up the middle and grinned at first base. He would not be there for long. Joc Pederson doubled and Grandal smacked a two-run single to push the lead to six runs.
“We just had good at-bats,” Roberts said.
Stripling set for Sunday
The Dodgers had pondered skipping Ross Stripling’s next start or using him as a reliever to piggyback another starter but decided to keep him on schedule to start Sunday’s series finale. Kenta Maeda will get an extra day of rest and start Monday against the Milwaukee Brewers at Dodger Stadium.
Roberts had expressed uncertainty about Stripling’s next assignment after Stripling gave up five runs in 4 2/3 innings Monday against the Philadelphia Phillies. Stripling made the All-Star team last week, but the Dodgers are cautious about conserving his usage in the second half.
“The workload is something that he hasn’t experienced before,” Roberts said.