ATLANTA — Rich Hill began Sunday unsure whether he would pitch the next day or in nine days. The Dodgers left-hander’s fate depended on the Game 3’s result.
A Dodgers sweep and he would likely not start until Game 4 of the National League Championship Series scheduled for Oct.16, which would’ve meant a 16-day layoff. A Braves win and he’d be on the mound for Game 4 Monday afternoon at SunTrust Park with a berth in the National League Championship Series within reach.
The Dodgers lost Sunday, 6-5, so Hill won’t have to wait. He’ll start Monday opposite Braves All-Star right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, who was chased after giving up four runs in two innings in Game 1. First pitch is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Pacific.
“I’m excited,” Hill said. “We got to win. That’s it. It’s as simple as that. Go out there and attack. Pitch with conviction and have fun.”
Hill last pitched on Sept. 30, a start he didn’t know he was going to make until he woke up that morning. Walker Buehler was originally slated to pitch, but the Dodgers decided to push the rookie back a day to start the National League West title tiebreaker against the Colorado Rockies.
The uncertainty did not hamper Hill. He held the San Francisco Giants scoreless for seven innings. He gave up two hits and didn’t walk a batter. He punched out seven. But the Giants were a lackluster fourth-place team. The Braves, as demonstrated Sunday, possess some firepower.
“They’re very aggressive,” said Hill, who pitched to a 2.55 ERA in four playoff starts last season. “One of the things is, for me, not to veer off my game plan and make sure that I’m attacking with my two pitches. And that’s it — changing the shape of my breaking ball and throwing a lot of fastballs. It’s not a big surprise. Just go out there and execute.”
Stripling preparing to go in NLCS
The Dodgers conducted a simulated game on Sunday afternoon for three pitchers who did not appear on the roster for this series against the Braves. Ross Stripling, Julio Urias and Josh Fields competed against Chase Utley, Austin Barnes and Kyle Farmer.
Stripling made the All-Star team as a starting pitcher, but struggled in the second half. Opposing hitters posted a .966 on-base plus slugging percentage against him after the break. He was left off the NLDS roster in favor of Ryan Madson and Dylan Floro.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts indicated Stripling might be a candidate to appear on the NLCS roster, because a seven-game series requires more innings.
“Especially when you’re talking about a guy who can give us length,” Roberts said before the game. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself. But he’s in play for that series.”
‘It was a mistake’
Roberts said he spoke with right fielder Yasiel Puig after Puig attempted to steal second base on his own in Game 2 and was thrown out by several feet, but that was not the reason for his absence from the Dodgers’ starting lineup in Game 3 on Sunday. Roberts explained it was a strategic choice; the Braves were starting left-hander Sean Newcomb and the Dodgers have usually not started Puig, who has reverse splits, against lefties.
“It was a mistake that he made,” Roberts said. “Probably won’t be his last on the bases, but we talked about it, and we’ve moved on.”
With Braves left-hander Sean Newcomb on the mound to start Sunday night, Roberts inserted David Freese into his lineup for the first time in the NLDS. Freese started at first base and batted third, a spot he’s earned against left-handed starters after a torrid first month with the Dodgers.
Entering Sunday, the former World Series MVP batted .385 with a 1.130 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 47 plate appearances since the Dodgers acquired him from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 31. His presence bolstered the Dodgers’ ammunition against southpaws, a weakness for much of the season, and he became a mainstay in lineups against lefties. And peers say the 35-year-old veteran’s impact extends beyond the diamond.
“Watching him and seeing the connections he’s made with the younger guys has been incredible,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “They flock to him. They’re always around him, they’re always talking to him. And he has had, I think, a huge influence, a huge impact on a lot of our young players…Not that myself and Chase [Utley] and other guys don’t have as much influence on them, but I think at some point, guys get tired of hearing the same voices over and over again.
“So to bring him in and have a new voice and a new guy kind of preaching the same stuff that we preach, maybe in a little bit different way I think was refreshing for those guys, and I think it’s gone a long way.”
Freese’s NLDS debut Sunday lasted two innings. He was replaced by pinch-hitter Max Muncy in the third inning, when the Braves replaced Newcomb with right-hander Kevin Gausman.
Trying to reverse a trend
The Braves have lost eight consecutive playoff rounds, dating to the 2001 National League Championship Series against Arizona. That is the second-longest drought in major league history, trailing the Chicago Cubs, who lost 10 consecutive rounds from 1910 to 1998. The Braves last won a playoff round in 2001, when they swept the Houston Astros in an NL Division Series.
These kids today
Ronald Acuna Jr. became the youngest person in major league history to hit a postseason grand slam. He is 20 years, 293 days old, passing Yankees great Mickey Mantle, who was 21 years, 349 days old when he hit a grand slam in Game 5 of the 1953 World Series. He is followed by Addison Russell of the Cubs, who was 22 years, 283 days old when he did it in the 2016 World Series Game 6, Gil McDougald of the Yankees, who was 23-143 when he hit one in Game 5 of the 1951 World Series, and Francisco Lindor of the Indians, who was 23-326 when he hit a grand slam in Game 2 of the 2017 ALDS.