An injury ravaged Dodgers rotation will receive a much-needed boost if Rich Hill can carry the stuff and command he showed in Thursday night’s minor league start to the big leagues next week.
Pitching for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga, Hill showed no ill effects from the middle-finger blister that has sidelined him since May 20, giving up two runs — both unearned — and four hits, striking out 10 and walking none in 4 2/3 innings at Lake Elsinore.
The veteran left-hander was slated for five innings and 75 pitches. Two errors prevented him from hitting his 15-out target, but Hill threw exactly 75 pitches, 58 for strikes, and said he felt like he had more in the tank.
“I felt like I could have thrown 100 pitches,” he said. “It’s interesting because as the game went on, I felt better and felt more comfortable in my mechanics. When you feel more comfortable, you can dig deeper into your reserves. I could see the ball jumping out of my hand in the third and fourth innings. That was a real positive.”
Hill’s fastball sat in its usual 89-mph range and touched 91 mph. His curve was tight, with bend and bite. Eight of his strikeouts came on breaking balls.
The laser treatments that expedited the healing of Hill’s blister were certainly a factor in Thursday night’s performance, but so was a mechanical adjustment Hill recently made with the help of Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.
Noticing on video that Hill’s alignment toward the plate was askew, Honeycutt suggested that Hill transfer the weight on his back foot from his toe to his heel.
“It’s helped me get back that efficient spin rate I had the last three years,” Hill said. “When I was on my toe, I would dive across [the first-base side of the mound]. On my heel, I’m able to stay more in line toward the plate. It’s very subtle, but credit to Rick, being the best pitching coach in the business.”
Hill has made only six starts this season between two stints on the disabled list, going 1-2 with a 6.20 earned-run average, striking out 25 and walking 13 in 24 2/3 innings. After Thursday night, he expects better results when he returns to the rotation in Chicago next week.
“That’s the best I’ve felt all year,” he said. “I can feel the way the ball is jumping out of my hand. It’s coming out so much easier than it did in spring training and the first two months of the season.”