The indomitable Rich Hill climbed the Dodger Stadium mound again Friday, refusing to yield to a left-knee injury that would have sent the 39-year-old left-hander to the injured list if not for the playoffs starting in less than two weeks.
Hill, wearing a brace on the knee that gave way in an abbreviated start in Baltimore on Sept. 12, threw 17 batting-practice pitches to Kristopher Negron and Edwin Rios under the watchful eyes of manager Dave Roberts, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
The high-intensity session “went really well,” Hill said, adding that the ball came out of his hand “great,” and the knee felt “really good with the brace on.”
Hill will start for the Dodgers on Tuesday night in San Diego. He also plans to pitch in the Sept. 29 regular-season finale at San Francisco, giving him two games to build the arm strength to throw four innings and 60 pitches in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.
“I want to be part of this postseason team, and I definitely think I can help in any capacity when healthy,” Hill said. “Obviously, I’d like that to be as a starter. That’s not my call. The biggest thing is being ready.”
Roberts confirmed Hill will start Tuesday, but he did not commit to Hill starting against the Giants. Hill could pitch in relief in the playoffs.
“He’ll throw two innings against the Padres, and we’ll go from there,” Roberts said. “His goal right now is to help our club going forward. He’s been a big part of what we’ve done this year. If he can do that [as a starter], great. If he can’t build up enough endurance, then we’ll pivot and have that conversation.”
Hill sprained the medial collateral ligament in the same knee in March and began the season on the IL. He made his debut April 28 and went 4-1 with a 2.55 ERA in 10 starts before returning to the IL because of a forearm strain June 20.
He lasted just 27 pitches against the Orioles before being pulled because of knee pain. An MRI test showed the break-up of scar tissue from the earlier injury but no new tears.
Hill made one slight adjustment in subsequent throwing sessions to ease stress on his knee, moving his foot on the rubber, but the biggest difference was donning the knee brace he wore for his first three starts of the season.
“The brace really neutralized that MCL, and I really don’t feel any differences in my mechanics,” Hill said. “I would feel confident pitching without the brace, but I know it’s not a very smart idea to go out there and possibly tweak it again.”
Was there anything in Hill’s mechanics Friday that gave Roberts pause?
“No, today was good — I didn’t see him compromising anything in his delivery,” Roberts said. “He was letting it go. The fastball was coming out well and his breaking ball had great shape.
Justin Turner ready to start
Third baseman Justin Turner, sidelined since Sept. 7 because of a left-ankle sprain, was available off the bench Friday night, and Roberts said he will start Saturday night and Sunday against the Rockies. Turner appeared as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning Friday, drew a walk and was replaced by a pinch-runner.
“[Saturday] will kind of be like a spring-training game,” Roberts said. “He’ll start, take a couple of at-bats and we’ll replace him. We’ll do the same thing Sunday.”
The Dodgers moved Walker Buehler from Sunday’s scheduled start to Saturday to shorten his layoff between games. Hyun-Jin Ryu moved from Saturday to Sunday. Could the rotation order of Clayton Kershaw-Buehler-Ryu hold for the playoffs?
“That’s what we envision through next week,” Roberts said, “but things can change.”