Rich Hill was a different man the last time he saw Washington Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton. It was three years ago. Hill was a reliever, clawing at the fringes of the sport, when Lobaton recorded his third hit in three at-bats against him. The two men would not meet again until Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.
During the intervening years, Hill rebuilt himself into a left-handed artist, a pitcher the Dodgers were willing to mortgage multiple prospects to acquire this summer, a pitcher the team decided to trust for Game 2 of the National League division series. He turned himself from a punching bag into a pillar.
But a transformation cannot override the danger of a hanging curveball.
In the fourth inning Sunday, Hill watched his primary pitch float toward the plate. Lobaton delivered a hit far more concussive than his previous three against Hill. The three-run homer handed the Nationals a lead they never lost in a 5-2 victory, blunted the momentum of the Dodgers and heightened the scrutiny on an offense that stranded 12 runners.
Up two runs when the ball left Hill’s hand, the Dodgers could not recover, and will fly back to Los Angeles with the series tied at a game apiece. There is little time to mourn. Kenta Maeda will throw Game 3’s first pitch at 1:08 p.m., with the schedule compacted by Saturday’s rainout, as the Dodgers confront a man capable of exploiting their offensive Achilles’ heel: Gio Gonzalez, a left-handed pitcher.