The name on the back of his jersey inspired snickers. On the first day of Players Weekend, a now-annual stunt that allows the workforce of Major League Baseball to wear nicknames on their uniforms, Rich Hill climbed atop the mound at Dodger Stadium recognized as “D. Mountain.” The sobriquet combined a diminutive of his first name with a synonym for his last name — the ideal concoction for adults who play a children’s game for a living.
In an 11-1 victory over San Diego, the Dodgers had reason to laugh. And the team needed it. Teetering after a sweep by St. Louis, mired in third place in the National League West, the group approached a crisis as this weekend began. They answered the first step of the challenge by stomping the Padres.
“We definitely needed to win,” Hill said. “And the play was tremendous.”
Hill led the way. He logged six scoreless innings. His first four were perfect. He struck out eight and permitted only two hits. He even delivered an RBI single.
He was far from the only Dodger to drive home runs. Justin Turner drove in three and Cody Bellinger drove in two. Yasmani Grandal scored three times; Enrique Hernandez scored twice. Max Muncy came off the bench in the seventh to swat a two-run homer. The Dodgers (68-61) did what they do often enough to inspire confidence, yet rare enough to raise doubt: They made it look easy.
And the Dodgers erased a portion of their deficit in the division. The gap fell to 31/2 games as Arizona lost. For one night, at least, the team displayed the depth and breadth of its ability.
“Hopefully,” Turner said, “we can settle down and continue to take good at-bats.”
Yet one night cannot be a panacea. Just last weekend, the team reached double digits on two occasions in Seattle. No momentum followed them home, as the Cardinals silenced the Dodgers bats across three excruciating losses.
However, the schedule tilts in their favor. As Arizona hosted the Mariners on Friday, the Dodgers kicked off a five-game stretch against the last-place Padres and the last-place Rangers. Dodger Stadium will host a four-game series between the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks next weekend.
“Obviously, I’m aware of the schedule,” manager Dave Roberts said. “But every game is tough. Every game is different. It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing. We can say, ‘games we should win,’ or whatever, but the bottom line is whoever is in front of us, we’ve got to win.”
Roberts maintained a smile as he spoke with reporters before the game. He had erased the grim expression he wore after Kenley Jansen surrendered a tiebreaking homer on Wednesday. Roberts suggested his group was refreshed after spending Thursday’s day off at Clayton Kershaw’s charity event.
Plus, that night’s opponent helped ease the manager’s mind.
Beset by woes with runners in scoring position against St. Louis, the Dodgers saw similar results in Friday’s first inning. Yet they benefited from the sloppiness of the Padres.
The sequence started with irritation. Manny Machado grounded into a fielder’s choice with Brian Dozier at third base; Dozier was thrown out at the plate. Matt Kemp followed with a single off Padres starter Clayton Richard into right field. San Diego outfielder Franmil Reyes botched his scoop of the baseball. The baseball skipped across the grass as Machado raced home to hand Hill a lead.
The Dodgers added three more in the second. Hernandez pulled a slider into the left-field corner for a leadoff double. Grandal walked. Slotted eighth in the lineup for the first time this season, Bellinger shortened up his swing to punch a two-seam fastball into the outfield for an RBI single.
After Hill grounded into a force play at second, the lineup rolled over. Dozier supplied his second double of the game to bring home Grandal. Turner singled through the left side of the infield as Hill trotted home.
Hill struck out six batters in the first three innings. Each at-bat in the third inning ended the same way, with a Padre taking strike three. Reyes stared at a curveball, and so did Manuel Margot. Richard let a curveball dive into Grandal’s glove and headed back to his dugout without complaint.
The offense handed Hill a fifth run of support in the third. Chris Taylor hammered a 90-mph fastball over the center-field fence. He had homered only once in August, and entered the game with a .193 average for the month. Richard helped cure those woes.
The lead expanded to seven in the fourth. After a walk by Dozier, Turner unloaded on a belt-high fastball for a two-run homer.
“I love our position players,” Roberts said. “I love our roster. We just have to go out there like we did tonight and execute.”
The blast meant the only drama remaining was how long Hill could stay perfect. The quest ended in the first at-bat of the fifth. Hunter Renfroe doubled. Two batters later, Hill walked Reyes.
Taylor kept San Diego off the board when he scaled the wall in left to rob Margot.
Hill contributed to more offense in the bottom of the inning. Bellinger splashed an RBI double after walks by Hernandez and Grandal. Hill stroked a single up the middle, which secured his second RBI of the season and only his sixth since 2009.
Roberts allowed Hill one more inning. Any stress supplied by a one-out triple from Freddy Galvis was mitigated by the nine-run lead.
“Everything needs to be tightened up as we move toward September,” Hill said. “As we know, things get amplified. And you want to be able to be as close to perfection as we can. Here, we were fortunate to have a great game tonight, and we’ll continue playing like there’s no tomorrow.”