He does not fear the moment. Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill made that clear on Tuesday evening, as he discussed his intention to start Game 5 of the National League division series against the Washington Nationals.
He has never pitched in a situation like this (a playoff elimination game), in a setting like this (on the road at Nationals Park), under circumstances like this (only three days removed from his start in Game 2).
And he did not seem to mind.
“If you’re not ready for it,” Hill said, “you’re in the wrong spot.”
Officially, the Dodgers have not announced a starter. Both Hill and 20-year-old rookie Julio Urias are expected to pitch on Thursday. Neither man will be asked to replicate Clayton Kershaw’s 110-pitch effort in Game 4 to keep the season alive.
“We talked about Rich as an option, obviously,” Manager Dave Roberts said after the Dodgers’ 6-5 win on Tuesday. “But so is Julio, and how we want to strategize to win Game 5, we’re going to talk through it.”
The Dodgers traveled from Los Angeles on Wednesday morning and did not schedule a workout. The Nationals did not, either.
Washington is not being secretive about its pitching plans. The Nationals have that luxury. Max Scherzer, the Game 1 starter and one of the favorites to win the National League Cy Young Award, will go again. He referred to the assignment as “the biggest start of my life.”
Scherzer provided six innings for the Nationals in the opener, but took the loss after yielding four runs. He served up home runs to Corey Seager and Justin Turner. The presence of Scherzer offered comfort to Washington Manager Dusty Baker. So did something else.
“I know Kershaw isn’t pitching,” Baker said after Game 4. “Thank God, you know what I mean? I don’t know who they are going to pitch. They will probably let us know right before. I would imagine it’s between [Kenta] Maeda, Hill and, probably, how do you say his name? Urias.”
Maeda is not an option. The Nationals pilloried him in Game 3 and punted him from the mound in three innings. As a contingency plan for the National League Championship Series, rookie Brock Stewart threw a bullpen session on Tuesday. He could be a candidate to start Game 1 against the Chicago Cubs, if the Dodgers can advance.
Baker may struggle to pronounce Urias’ name, but he surely remembers his pitching. Urias faced the Nationals twice this season, and limited them to three runs in nine innings. He struck out 10 and walked one. The Dodgers will likely ask him to throw a maximum of three innings this time.
The combination of Hill and Urias is unorthodox, but it would reduce the chances of Washington’s top four hitters — Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy — from getting comfortable at the plate against either. Hitters tend to perform better when they have seen a pitcher more than once in a game. The Dodgers will try not to allow that to happen on Thursday.
Hill gave up four runs in Game 2. Three resulted from a pitiable curveball to catcher Jose Lobaton, who took him deep for a series-shaking homer. Hill hoped to compensate for the mistake in the series finale.
Hill has never started a game with three days’ rest after a prior start. In 2009, with Baltimore, he took the ball after three days off after facing four batters in a relief appearance.
If he needed advice, he did not need to look far. Kershaw has proved himself to be the sport’s foremost practitioner of pitching on short rest. Even after being charged with five runs on Tuesday — three of which scored after he left the game — he has a 2.81 earned-run average in four postseason starts on three days’ rest.
Kershaw indicated there was no secret, no technique that would prepare Hill. One characteristic the man on the mound requires is will. Hill possesses that quality, Kershaw believes.
“I think Rich will be fine,” Kershaw said. “I don’t think there’s anything I can tell him. He’s as competitive as they come. If you want to be out there, you’ll be fine. I think he really wants to be out there.”
Hill made that clear on Tuesday. He demanded the challenge.
“You’ve been working days, weeks, months, years, decades,” Hill said. “Everybody always says, ‘This is what you play for. This is what you play for.’ It is. This is what you play for.”