Rich Hill ambled off the field Thursday night with frustration splattered on his face and a familiar problem in his left knee. He took his Dodgers cap off before reaching the visitors’ dugout at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and marched straight into the clubhouse.
There were no tantrums from the emotionally charged veteran. He didn’t lay waste to anything on the bench. The 39-year-old pitcher quickly exited stage left, perhaps for the rest of the season, before he could record three outs in the Dodgers’ 4-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
Hill’s first start since spending nearly three months on the injured list with a forearm strain was cut short by a left knee injury. The plan was for him to log two innings but the medial collateral ligament in his knee, the same ligament he sprained during spring training, flared up throwing his eighth pitch, derailing his outing.
He faced six batters. He struck out the first two batters, walked two, and hit two. He threw 27 pitches and had his velocity diminish once he hurt his knee. The Orioles didn’t put a ball in play but scored anyway.
Hill’s status for the remainder of the season is unknown. He’ll be reevaluated in New York on Friday.
“Having that happen tonight is just really disappointing,” Hill said.
The Dodgers (95-53) rebounded from the episode to outlast the Orioles and snatch the series victory using eight pitchers to limit Baltimore to two hits, concluding with closer Kenley Jansen’s perfect ninth inning for his 29th save.
The difference was a three-run sixth inning gifted by the Orioles (47-99). A.J. Pollock led the frame off with a double off the right-field wall and scored on Cody Bellinger’s RBI single. Corey Seager walked before right-hander Dylan Bundy, the Orioles’ starter, retired the next two batters.
Bundy thought he had three outs in a row, only to realize too late he was mistaken. Bundy got Russell Martin to swing through a pitch for strike three, but the ball sailed past catcher Pedro Severino to the backstop. Bellinger scored easily from third base.
The play did not end there. When Severino turned around after gathering the ball he found Seager dashing home from second base and Bundy not covering the plate. Seager scored without a throw, putting an appropriate stamp on the bungling Orioles’ 99th loss.
The evening began with vintage Rich Hill. The left-hander struck out the leadoff hitter, Hanser Alberto, with three pitches. His eighth pitch, a 75-mph curveball, struck out Jonathan Villar swinging. He was working his fastball and curveball off each other to perfection.
He couldn’t recreate the combination after that eighth pitch, and yet he appeared on his way to a clean inning when he jumped ahead 0-2 on Trey Mancini. The first pitch was a 74-mph curveball for a called strike. The second offering was even slower, a looping 68-mph curveball. All Mancini could do was feebly wave his bat. But he couldn’t finish off Mancini as his command and fastball velocity illustrated a problem.
Mancini worked his way back into the at-bat by fouling off the next two pitches, taking a ball, and fouling off another pitch before Hill plunked him with a curveball off his foot. Hill didn’t recover. He issued a four-pitch walk to Anthony Santander before hitting Renato Nunez with the second pitch of the at-bat to load the bases.
His fastball velocity sat between 91 and 92 mph before the knee injury. After it, the velocity dipped to 88 to 90. The sequence was enough to coax Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and trainer Yosuke Nakajima out to check on Hill.
“You could see him kind of compensating a little bit,” Roberts said.
The conversation was brief. Hill talked his way into staying on the mound to secure the final out. He couldn’t. He walked Austin Hays on seven pitches to end his night. Mancini scored and Roberts emerged again, signaling for left-hander Adam Kolarek and leaving Hill with unsettling uncertainty.
In March, Hill suffered an MCL sprain during a spring training start March 17. He began the season on the injured list and didn’t make his debut until April 28. He hopes this injury is less severe.
“I would say, [initially], right off the bat, maybe slightly less [pain] than what they were in spring training so hopefully that’s a good sign,” said Hill, a free agent this winter. “Just have to wait and see how it feels the next couple of days.”
Before the game, Roberts said the plan before was for Hill to make four starts, ramping up his workload with each appearance, before serving as the Dodgers’ fourth starter for the National League Division Series if he emerged healthy. The Dodgers now may have to look to Tony Gonsolin for the role.
Gonsolin continued making his case Thursday with a sharp, three-inning appearance. The 25-year-old rookie entered in the the third inning to retire the first six hitters he faced, including striking out the side in the third. In the fifth, Severino smacked a leadoff home run for the Orioles’ first hit. Their second and final hit came next — a Rio Ruiz single — but Gonsolin recovered to secure three consecutive outs to conclude his outing.
Three innings later, Jansen, still seeking to discover consistency before October, smoothly discarded the Orioles in order to provide another bright spot on a night mired with dejection.
An MRI exam on Justin Turner’s sore left ankle, which has kept him out of games since Saturday, revealed a mild sprain Thursday. Roberts said Turner won’t be in the lineup Friday against the New York Mets, but he could play this weekend. … Reliever Scott Alexander underwent a “left forearm nerve decompression procedure” in Los Angeles on Thursday, according to the Dodgers. Alexander has not pitched since going on the injured list with left forearm inflammation in June.