Rich Hill’s season, and maybe his Dodgers career, might be over. The damage to the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, which he suffered during an abbreviated start Thursday, could be too much to overcome with so little time remaining in the season, the final one of his contract. But Hill, plucky and resilient, is determined to do everything he can to pitch again in 2019.
So on Saturday, two days before a scheduled MRI exam on his knee, he threw on flat ground with a brace on his knee at Citi Field. He fooled around with his mechanics until he found a delivery that did not produce the pain in his knee. The ball, he said, came out as it usually does two days after a start. He emerged optimistic. He will test the knee out with another throwing session Sunday. He hopes to throw off a mound in a few days.
“I think it’s a good step in the right direction as far as trying to come up with some kind of answer and move forward,” Hill said.
Hill’s mechanical adjustment is about his left foot’s placement at the start of his delivery. When it’s parallel with the rubber, he drives off the mound and pain is produced when he gets up on his toe. He discovered the MCL isn’t provoked when he points the toe inward, forgoing the transition from the ball of his foot to the toe.
He acknowledged that manipulating mechanics could yield other problems. He refused to change his mechanics when he sprained the MCL in spring training. But he had time to wait it out then.
“That is always a part of it, but I think the other side of it is: Do you want to pitch?” Hill said. “So want to actually contribute for the postseason? And that’s all that I’m thinking about. Just want to go out there and help the team.”
His manager posited more skepticism at the premise.
“I would never underestimate Rich, and I haven’t talked to him about his delivery adjustment,” Dave Roberts said. “But where you’re at right now and you’re already compensating for something to change your delivery to mask or appease another part of your body, I haven’t wrapped my head around that concept yet, and like I said, you can never underestimate, but I’ll adhere to the MRI once we get it.”
Ultimately, Hill said the point of his experimentation isn’t to just compete. He said he would only push through the injury if he believes he can dominate, as he so often does when he’s healthy. He said he’s more of a “show me” person than one who will rely on hope. He doesn’t want to hurt his team with his performance — or himself. Hill is 39, but he wants to pitch next season, whether with the Dodgers or another club. Creating another problem by trying to pitch around this one could derail those plans.
“At the same time, if I can go out there and figure out a way to get around that and around my MCL and take away that pain that’s there when I go to push off the mound,” Hill said, “it’s definitely worth a shot down these next 15 games or so that we have left.”