Rich Hill’s quest to pitch in the playoffs this season, an improbable aspiration less than a month ago after reinjuring the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, will come to fruition Monday when he takes the mound for the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals.
Hill is slated to log four innings. His pitch limit will be about 60. It is the next step in his return after logging two innings and three innings in his final two starts of the regular season. And though Hill’s knee still presents a risk, manager Dave Roberts insisted Hill would start regardless of the result of Game 3.
“We’re prepared, Rich is prepared,” Roberts said before Sunday’s game.
Hill said he had a standard bullpen session at Dodger Stadium on Thursday, throwing 20 to 25 pitches with his usual intensity after tossing three scoreless innings against San Francisco in the Dodgers’ regular-season finale. The 39-year-old left-hander will continue wearing a knee brace to be safe, but said he believes the knee has improved enough to make it optional.
“The ball came out really well,” Hill said. “Felt like I was able to spin the ball the way I wanted to. And those are really the two things.”
Roberts said piecing together the remaining innings after Hill’s exit Monday would depend on how he deployed relievers Sunday. Turns out nearly everybody should be available: After Joe Kelly threw 22 pitches and did not record an out, Julio Urias needed only 15 pitches to record six outs, Adam Kolarek dispatched Juan Soto again, Kenta Maeda recorded two outs on five pitches and Kenley Jansen needed just nine pitches to retire the side in order in the ninth. Ross Stripling, Dustin May and Pedro Baez did not pitch.
The situation Monday when Roberts goes to the bullpen also could affect his thinking. One option: Having Walker Buehler pitch out of the ‘pen on short rest. The right-hander threw 100 pitches across six scoreless innings in the Dodgers’ Game 1 win. He’s made one relief appearance over the last two seasons.
“Anything is possible,” Roberts said.
That was the mindset Hill assumed when he aggravated his knee injury Sept. 12. He returned 12 days later and nearly didn’t last the first inning. He was limping and grimacing as he issued two walks and a reliever started warming up. But he escaped and pitched a clean second inning to get back on track. Less than two weeks later, Hill, an impending free agent, will start a playoff game in what could be his last appearance as a Dodger.
“The motivating factor to come back is I believe that I have something to give,” Hill said, “and I can help this team win.”
Sanchez instead of Scherzer
The Nationals’ strategy to pitch Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg as often as possible did not extend to Game 3.
After Scherzer pitched an inning of relief at Dodger Stadium on Friday, he met with manager Dave Martinez. Scherzer was the scheduled starter for Game 3, but he said an extra day of rest would allow him to throw more pitches in a Game 4 start.
“I don’t even know what the number is,” Scherzer said. “That’s kind of out the door.”
So Anibal Sanchez started Game 3 and struck out nine in five innings, allowing a solo homer by Max Muncy, before the Dodgers broke through against the Nationals’ bullpen, scoring nine runs, including six against Game 1 starter Patrick Corbin.
Rain forecast Monday
Showers are forecast for Monday night, with skies expected to be clear in the afternoon. However, Game 4 still is scheduled to start at 6:40 p.m. in Washington, an MLB official said Sunday.
If Monday’s game is rained out, Game 4 would be rescheduled for Tuesday afternoon on what is now an off day. Game 5, if necessary, would remain scheduled for Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.
Robles pulled a hammy
Victor Robles, the Nationals’ center fielder, did not play after an MRI exam revealed what Martinez called a “very, very mild” hamstring strain. Martinez said Robles could pinch-hit in “an emergency.”
The Nationals understandably are cautious about putting Robles on the injured list and replacing him on the roster. If they do so, they would lose Robles for the rest of this series and, if they advance, for the NL championship series.
The first person in line at the third-base gate Sunday wore an artifact of franchise history. The Nationals moved here in 2005, and this franchise was called the Montreal Expos for its first 36 years.
Lyle Green wore a two-team tribute jersey. He had bought an Expos jersey, then stitched the Nationals’ curly W logo on it, opposite the Montreal logo. Green also wore an Expos cap that commemorated the 1982 All-Star game, the only one ever played in Montreal. The three Expos in the starting lineup for the NL that day — Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines — all have been elected to the Hall of Fame.
The Nationals wore Expos throwback jerseys July 6, for the first time since setting up shop in Washington, in honor of the franchise’s 50-year anniversary. The Nationals display the names of Carter, Dawson and Raines along a Nationals Park ring of honor — along with stars from the Nationals, Washington Senators and the Negro League’s Washington Homestead Grays — but retired numbers in Montreal are not retired here. Dawson’s No. 10, for instance, is worn in Washington by catcher Yan Gomes.
Green, who lives in Maryland, said this was one of various jerseys he wears to Nationals games. He chose 42 as the number on the back of his jersey.
“Don’t have to worry about him getting traded,” Green said.
That number is retired throughout the major leagues, in honor of Jackie Robinson.