Could a covert push to generate more buzz in baseball have devalued the Dodgers’ $48-million investment in Rich Hill?
The Dodgers made Hill the highest-paid starting pitcher in free agency during the offseason, expecting the blister trouble that plagued him last year would be a thing of the past. Instead, Hill already has served two stints on the disabled list because of recurrent blisters, and he ranks sixth on the Dodgers in innings pitched, with less than half as many as Clayton Kershaw.
“All I can say,” Hill said, “is that I didn’t have any blisters before 2016.”
That timeline might not be coincidental. In testing conducted for The Ringer, a sample of baseballs used after the 2015 All-Star break had lower seams than ones used previously. The seams still were within major league specifications, the website reported, but the lower seams were one of several factors that could lead to balls flying farther — and to the current record home run rate.
Hill is not alone in reporting blister issues. Johnny Cueto of the San Francisco Giants, David Price of the Boston Red Sox, and Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman of the Toronto Blue Jays are among the pitchers that have experienced blister trouble this season.
“With these seams different, you’re seeing guys getting more blisters,” New York Mets manager Terry Collins told USA Today.
Stroman said he never had a blister until now.
“I feel like it’s an epidemic,” Stroman told reporters covering the Blue Jays. He added: “For MLB to turn their back to it, I think that’s kind of crazy. I have no theory. But, obviously, it’s not a coincidence that it’s happening to so many guys all of a sudden.”
Hill said other Dodgers pitchers have gotten blisters this season but been able to manage them without public disclosure of the condition.
“There’s got to be something, right?” he said. “There’s more evidence this year than there ever has been of blisters in pitchers.”
Hill said he has thrown enough with this year’s baseball that his previously blistered finger has become used to it. Still, he sees balls flying out of the park, and he couldn’t help thinking about the juiced-ball scandal that forced the resignation of the Japanese baseball commissioner in 2013.
Major League Baseball has said its studies show the baseball has not been changed in any significant way.
“I love home runs,” Hill said. “I like seeing ’em. It’s good for the game. Blisters aren’t.
“The seams are a little bit flatter, which creates less drag and creates more ball flight. Whether or not that’s something that’s been altered, we don’t know. I would like to think it’s highly doubtful. But, when you take into consideration what happened in Japan, why couldn’t something like that happen here? I think that’s a very fair question, but I would hate to think that’s what was going on.”
Cody Bellinger will face Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies in the first round of Monday’s home run derby, MLB announced. If Bellinger wins, he could face Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees in the second round.
Bellinger is the National League leader in home runs, Judge the American League leader. The top seed in the derby is defending champion Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins,
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin