Rich Hill needed 15 pitches to retire the side in order in the first inning of the Dodgers’ 9-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night. He recorded two strikeouts. He threw only four balls. It was, on the surface, an encouraging sign for a pitcher previously haunted by early troubles this season. Hill entered the outing with a 7.00 earned-run average in the first inning across nine starts.
But something wasn’t quite right. Hill visibly labored during the 1-2-3 frame. After throwing a curveball for a called strike to Donovan Solano, the game’s second batter, he looked away in frustration and walked around the mound. The situation was odd enough for third baseman Justin Turner and second baseman Enrique Hernandez to inquire from their positions.
“That wasn’t normal for him,” Turner said. “He usually works fast.”
Hill shook them off. The 39-year-old left-hander tossed two changeups — a pitch he throws less than 3% of the time — and slung three more curves around his fastball, which didn’t suffer a dip in velocity. But he exhaled heavily after one curveball, wandering back around to recoup before throwing another pitch. He finished the inning by striking out Tyler Austin with the third hook. It was his final pitch of the night.
Hill returned to the mound for the top of the second inning, after Chris Taylor had provided him a 3-0 lead with the first of his two home runs, and threw three warmup pitches. After the third, he looked into the Dodgers’ dugout shaking his head. Moments later, he was walking off the field and the Dodgers were left to figure out which reliever to insert.
“Everything pointed toward not continuing to keep going,” said Hill, who owns a 2.55 ERA in 53 innings. “Just because you know that the next pitch could be the one that’s a season-ending issue.”
The Dodgers initially described Hill’s injury as “left forearm tightness.” But before the start of the fourth inning, they clarified that it was “discomfort,” not “tightness.” After the game, Hill said he had an ultrasound and his elbow ligament appeared intact. He is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Thursday. Regardless of the results, he is headed to the injured list and the Dodgers will recall a pitcher from the minors.
Hill acknowledged sensing tightness in his elbow in his last two starts, but insisted he is confident the injury is not the worst-case scenario based on his experience after sustaining a torn ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011. Before that injury, he said, he felt tightness in his forearm.
“It’ll probably show something,” Hill said of the MRI. “But I don’t think it’ll be in the concerned category of missing a tremendous amount of time.”
Confusion followed Hill’s departure. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts originally summoned left-hander Ca-leb Ferguson to replace Hill. The bullpen gate was opened for him, but he was called back before he emerged. Instead, right-hander Dylan Floro took off his jacket and trotted out to the mound for the emergency appearance.
Floro, Yimi Garcia, Ferguson, Pedro Baez, and Joe Kelly combined to limit the last-place Giants to two runs and three hits across eight innings, solid work for the beleaguered bullpen.
“Very, very proud,” Roberts said. “Those guys stepped up, they really did.”
Cody Bellinger slugged a two-run homer in the seventh inning, his 24th home run this season, and Kyle Garlick contributed a solo shot for the first home run of his big league career.
The assault ensured that the Dodgers never had to sweat the outcome. After two hours and 47 minutes, they drubbed the Giants for the second straight night and won 50 of their first 75 games for the first time in 42 years.
But what happened in the first few minutes, an injury that could knock the Dodgers’ vaunted starting rotation off its equilibrium, resonated the loudest.