Column: A blister has hung up Rich Hill and the Dodgers
The Dodgers have positioned themselves to overtake the San Francisco Giants for first place in the National League West, only to now have to stare at a giant finger that is suddenly in their faces.
Specifically, Rich Hill’s middle finger.
It’s as if the baseball gods are playing a cruel joke on the Dodgers, their newly-acquired frontline pitcher already delaying his franchise debut once because of a blister on his pitching hand.
“Frustration is definitely there,” Hill said.
The minor injury could have a major impact on the season, which is why the Dodgers will be holding their collective breath when Hill throws a bullpen session Tuesday.
The Dodgers desperately need him in their rotation.
Their current starters continue to offer them minimal length, with Julio Urias pitching five innings Monday and Brandon McCarthy’s 3 2/3 innings the day before.
Hill, who was 9-3 with a 2.25 earned-run average with the Oakland Athletics, should help — provided he can pitch.
If Hill emerges from his bullpen session unscathed, he will start Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. If he doesn’t, he will be pushed back again.
That would be a problem. Hill hasn’t made a full-fledged start since July 7. His next start lasted only five pitches, as a blister on middle finger ruptured.
“It’s not a concern as far as his shoulder, his arm,” Manager Dave Roberts said. “But you look at the last time he made a start in the major leagues, it’s been a while back.”
Hill was scheduled to start for the Dodgers over the weekend against the Boston Red Sox, but was scratched after a new blister appeared on the same finger.
“If it ends up getting bigger and tearing open like the other one did, we’re talking two, two-and-a-half weeks,” Hill said. “We don’t want to be in that position whatsoever. I don’t want to be in that position. I don’t want the team to be in that position.”
Hill has survived a major shoulder operation. He underwent reconstructive elbow surgery.
He sounded almost mystified by how he could be sidelined for so long with a blister.
“Games are hard, you know, sitting around, waiting to get in,” he said. “I want to be out there more than anybody.”
The predicament illustrates the frailty of even the best-laid plans in sports, as the acquisition of Hill and right fielder Josh Reddick at the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline looked like one of the smarter deals made by the Dodgers under Andrew Friedman.
While a significant portion of the fan base called on Friedman to push all-in and trade for a true ace — Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox, for example — the situation didn’t call for that. The time to do so was last year; it made no sense for them to make a major move for the sake of atoning for a previous mistake.
The bounties for the best players were unreasonably high, as evidenced by the prices paid for the likes of Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Lucroy. The teams trading for players of that caliber felt as if they were one trade from reaching the World Series.
The Dodgers weren’t in that position, at least not with Kershaw’s status uncertain. You don’t tear apart a farm system if you don’t know if your best player will be on the field again.
And they didn’t, sending three second-tier pitching prospects to the Athletics in exchange for solid upgrades in Hill and Reddick.
Hill said he doesn’t feel burdened by the trade. If there’s something the late bloomer has learned over his unusual career, it’s patience. The Dodgers are his eighth team in an injury-plagued 12-year major league career.
“The biggest thing, even right now, is staying in the moment from day to day,” he said. “You can’t look forward, look ahead. You have to stay with what you’re doing on that day. You can’t control anything else.”
Hill is telling himself now what he told himself last year around this time, when he was pitching in an independent league following his release by the Washington Nationals.
Get healthy. The results will come.
The Dodgers are counting on it.
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