On Saturday night against the Marlins, Dodgers lefty Rich Hill flirted with perfection. He was perfect through seven innings until manager Dave Roberts opted to remove him as a safety precaution. Reliever Joe Blanton took the hill in the eighth and allowed a two-out single to Jeff Francoeur to end the bid for a perfect game (and a no-hitter). Ultimately, Hill set 21 consecutive batters down on nine strikeouts while throwing 89 pitches.
Roberts explained his thought process for removing Hill and it had everything to do with the veteran’s nagging blister, ESPN’s Doug Padilla reports. The Dodgers acquired Hill from the Athletics ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline on August 1, but he had been sidelined since mid-July with the blister issue. He wouldn’t make his Dodgers debut until August 24, pitching six scoreless innings against the Giants. Hill wouldn’t pitch again until September 3, when he blanked the Padres over six. With an extra day of rest, Hill started Saturday, the first time he made two starts within six days of each other since July 2 and 7.
The Dodgers are nursing a four-game lead over the Giants in the NL West. We’ve seen larger leads vanish with less time remaining in the season, all you have to do to verify that is ask the 2007 or ’08 Mets. Though the club recently got Clayton Kershaw back, the Dodgers have been ravaged all season by injuries. They need a healthy Hill to have their best shot at success in the postseason.
Every pitch a pitcher throws is progressively riskier than the last. Each successive pitch requires more effort. There’s no magic number where the pitch reaches a risk apex — it’s a neverending upward trend — but when looking at a range of pitches, such as 90 to 120 for Hill who has been anything but a paragon of health over his career, it’s reasonable to conclude that the risk of exacerbating a recent injury outweighs the feat of throwing the 22nd perfect game in the modern era, especially for the team in the middle of a pennant chase.
Dave Roberts made the right call. It’s not the first time he’s made such a tough decision and nor is it likely to be the last. Ross Stripling threw 7 1/3 hitless innings on 100 pitches against the Giants on April 8, but Roberts chose to lift him from the game because the right-hander had gone through Tommy John surgery.