Rich Hill reached another checkpoint in his recovery from a left forearm strain Thursday at Marlins Park. The left-hander, who hasn’t pitched since June 19, played catch from 120 feet, adding 15 feet of distance from a few days earlier. He made 50 throws.
With six weeks remaining in the regular season, Hill still expects to have time to build enough stamina to start games in the playoffs if his rehabilitation program proceeds as planned.
“The way I look at it, and the way we’ve been looking at it,” Hill said, “is that September is like March, essentially.”
Hill, 39, said he will throw off a mound for the first time next week in Los Angeles. He is slated to throw four bullpen sessions — one may be a live batting practice session — before pitching in games. The minor league season will be over by the time he is cleared, so he will make what amounts to rehab appearances in the majors. He would start with an inning or two, and increase the workload with each outing, one inning at a time, like in spring training.
“The question is, do we have time to build him up to 90 to 100 pitches?,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman asked. “And I think we do.”
That is the ideal scenario. But Hill could start games if he’s not built up to 90 pitches. The Dodgers could have another pitcher piggyback with him. Or they could just use him as a reliever and have someone else round out the playoff rotation as the fourth starter.
Options to start or piggyback are Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, Tony Gonsolin, Julio Urias and Dustin May, though Stripling is out indefinitely with a neck injury and manager Dave Roberts has already declared he would return as a reliever. Maeda has been used as a reliever the past two postseasons and his pronounced splits make him a candidate for the bullpen again.
May allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings against the Marlins on Tuesday. The 21-year-old prospect threw a bullpen session Thursday and the Dodgers have him listed as their starter Sunday against the Atlanta Braves, but Roberts said that could change. So, who are the Dodgers’ other options?
“Somebody internal,” Roberts said with a slight grin. “I don’t want to show the Braves our hand quite yet. Gamesmanship.”
The answer could be Gonsolin. He logged five scoreless innings with nine strikeouts Monday in his first start with triple-A Oklahoma City after a successful stint with the Dodgers. But at some point he could also return as a reliever, a role he filled in the minors until last season. Roberts said he also envisions May eventually making appearances out of the bullpen. Both could end up there if Hill’s rehab proceeds without a setback.
Infielder Jedd Gyorko, acquired at the trade deadline, will join the Dodgers “soon,” according to Roberts. Gyorko was sent on a rehab assignment two days after he was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals. He started in double-A Tulsa and is with Oklahoma City. The 30-year-old was 8 for 19 with two home runs in seven games between the two stops entering Thursday. … A bloodied Kristopher Negron left Thursday’s game after face-planting diving for a ball in the fifth inning. Roberts said Negron was “woozy” but passed concussion tests and will not miss any time. ... Chris Taylor, who fractured his left forearm last month, hit a three-run home run in his first game on rehab assignment Thursday with single-A Rancho Cucamonga. Taylor played shortstop for four innings. He finished two for three.