In the bottom of the fifth inning on Wednesday, as he sat on the Dodgers bench, Rich Hill touched his left thumb against the tip of his left middle finger. Hill noticed the heat of the area and the irritation on the skin.
A man with a history of blisters understands the symptoms, and so Hill informed the Dodgers training staff, starting the chain of events that led the club to place him on the 10-day disabled list before Friday’s game against the Colorado Rockies.
When the Dodgers signed Hill to a three-year, $48-million contract over the winter, team officials acknowledged the likelihood that Hill would require time off for injuries at certain points during the season.
On his long journey back to prominence, Hill underwent an elbow reconstruction and a labrum repair. He dealt with blisters throughout 2016, and missed six weeks of starts.
As Hill explained his latest bout with blisters, he used the lessons from last year as a guideline. He wanted to manage the issue, rather than pitch through it and allow it to fester. He referred to the latest blister as “similar but not close to where it was, at all.
“It was more of the beginning stages of something,” Hill said. “Last year, not realizing where it was going to end up, if I had known, I probably would have taken more time off.”
Manager Dave Roberts framed the decision as precautionary, describing it as “not a big issue,” but one that allowed the club to use its depth to afford Hill the rest he requires.
Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt suggested Alex Wood could start in Hill’s place on Monday in Chicago against the Cubs. Roberts mentioned Ross Stripling as another candidate. The choice will depend on how Roberts deploys his bullpen this weekend against the Rockies.
“For us, it’s managing to win these games and get through these games,” Roberts said. “After the dust settles, we should have more clarity. Even after the next two days, we should have more clarity for Monday.”
Roberts ruled out using left-hander Julio Urias, who is lined up to pitch on Monday for triple-A Oklahoma City. Urias has not been sufficiently built up to handle a 75-pitch assignment. The team does not want to rush his promotion to the major-league club.
Hill offered to pitch out of the bullpen as he recovered, so the team would not have to make a roster move. The team declined the suggestion. Right-handed reliever Josh Fields was recalled from Oklahoma City, and joined the group before the game.
Major League Baseball replaced the 15-day disabled list with the newer, brief version for 2017. Hill may miss only one start. He mentioned his goal of pitching next weekend against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“For us, the prudent thing to do is just put him on the D.L., skip a start and then re-set,” Roberts said.
During the winter, after he signed his contract, Hill said he felt the blisters would no longer bother him. To build up calluses, he rubbed his fingertips against a piece of rough wood. But the skin still flared on Wednesday.
Going forward, Hill plans to cut back on his throwing between starts. That conflicts with his natural approach, as he feels his command of his curveball improves through extended repetition. The problem is the spin generated by his pitches causes the seams of the baseball to shred his skin.
In his start Wednesday against the San Diego Padres, Hill allowed two hits and a run in five innings. He threw 75 pitches. But in preparation for that game, he threw a 40-pitch bullpen session, which he felt contributed to the outbreak.
Hill played catch on Friday. He expected to “pick up the intensity” in his throwing by next week. And he will wait to see how the blister responds.
“Very frustrating,” Hill said. “It’s something that we’ll continue to keep working on. That’s it. That’s all I can do.”
1 p.m.: This post has been updated with more details.
The article was originally published at 11:10 a.m.