A flexor tendon strain is sometimes a precursor to Tommy John surgery, which is why the Dodgers winced when that diagnosis was attached to Rich Hill, the 39-year-old left-hander who was placed on the 10-day injured list Thursday but will be sidelined until at least early August.
“I think any time you’re talking about a pitcher’s arm there’s a little bit of holding your breath,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Right now, I don’t want to get too far ahead of my emotions. I want to take the three or four weeks and reassess.”
Those emotions are attached to the worst-case scenario — that a highly effective pitcher, a fan favorite and one of the most popular players in the Dodgers’ clubhouse might have suffered a career-ending injury. Not many 39-year-olds undergo — let alone recover from — elbow reconstruction surgery.
The Dodgers and Hill are choosing to be more optimistic. Hill, who was pulled from Wednesday night’s start against the Giants after one inning, began platelet-rich plasma therapy on Thursday in an effort to promote healing in the tendon and plans to resume throwing in three to four weeks.
This marks the 14th time Hill has gone on the injured list in 15 years, though five of his six previous IL stints were because of blisters on fingers of his pitching hand.
Hill, the oldest starter in the majors, missed the first month of this season because of a left-knee sprain but returned in late April and was 4-1 with a 2.55 ERA in 10 starts, striking out 61 and walking 12 in 53 innings.
“I’m disappointed, obviously, not only for myself but [because I won’t be able] to help this team out,” Hill said. “I want to get back as soon as I’m physically able to but not push it where it’s going to be nonproductive. I don’t want to put the team or myself in any position for that to happen.”
Roberts is confident Hill will pitch again this season.
“Rich is a very driven guy,” Roberts said. “I expect him to dominate the rehab process, but right now, nature has to take its course and the healing process has to happen.”
If any team is equipped to absorb the loss of a starting pitcher it’s the Dodgers, but neither of the two top rotation candidates in the bullpen — promising 22-year-old left-hander Julio Urias nor 2018 National League All-Star Ross Stripling — have the stamina to throw 60-70 pitches.
There is a chance the Dodgers could give triple-A right-hander Tony Gonsolin, who is 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA in seven starts for Oklahoma City, a spot start Tuesday night in Arizona, but they will likely go with Urias or Stripling and bolster the bullpen with an extra reliever or two.
“The good thing about the organization is we have some good internal options, whether it’s Ross or Julio or someone in the system,” Roberts said. “We don’t have to make a decision right now. We have a few days to assess the situation.”
The Dodgers recalled right-handed relievers JT Chargois and Josh Sborz from Oklahoma City and optioned infielder Matt Beaty to triple A, giving the team a 14-man pitching staff, including nine relievers, and a three-man bench. The versatility of Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor, who can play multiple outfield and infield positions, and the ability the left-handed-hitting Cody Bellinger, Alex Verdugo and Max Muncy to hit left-handers will allow a thin bench “for a short term,” Roberts said. … Bellinger, the leading NL most valuable player candidate who started 70 of the team’s first 75 games, was not in the lineup against Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner Thursday night. “It’s just a day off,” Roberts said.