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Rich Hill’s blister will determine whether he stays in Dodgers’ rotation

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Dodgers’ left-hander Rich Hill is scheduled to rejoin the rotation on Tuesday, manager Dave Roberts announced on Friday. What happens after Tuesday hinges entirely on Hill’s performance — specifically, whether he can continue to build on his strong start to the season and do so without re-aggravating the blister on his pitching hand. If all goes well, the southpaw is likely to stick in the rotation for the foreseeable future; if not, Roberts suggested that Hill might find himself in the bullpen.

It’s been an up-and-down season for the 37-year-old, who allowed four runs in 2/3 innings during a rehab start in High-A Rancho Cucamonga last week. He recovered with a much more impressive outing on Wednesday, tossing five scoreless innings with three walks and three strikeouts. While he’s already gone on the 10-day disabled list twice this season due to persistent blister issues, he appears to have made a full recovery at this point in the season. Given the lefty’s tumultuous history, however, that’s not saying much. It’ll take more than one start to prove he’s regained both his health and his effectiveness on a long-term basis.

Should things go south on Tuesday, the Dodgers could revisit the idea of transferring Hill to a bullpen role. There’s no word yet on whether the transition would be temporary or permanent, but as Joey Kaufman of the Orange County Register remarked last month, it could help the club manage Hill’s blister issues better. The lefty hasn’t pitched in relief since 2014, when he split the season between the Angels’ and Yankees’ bullpens, and currently carries a career 4.38 ERA and 1.86 SO/BB rate over 86 1/3 innings as a reliever.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.