Erwin Schrödinger once told us of his cat. The cat, so his thought experiment says, could be both alive and dead. Kind of. Sort of. It’s rather complicated.
The point is that Schrödinger, whether he knew it or not, was also describing the Dodgers’ rotation. For nigh on years now, the Dodgers have burned through starters with an alacrity that would startle pyromaniacs. Fans have watched as starter after starter has strained an oblique or had their elbow cut open, or in the case of Clayton Kershaw, herniated a disk in their back. Besides Kershaw, there are currently four other Dodger starting pitchers on the disabled list.
One of them is one of their newest acquisitions, Rich Hill. Hill came over from the Athletics on Monday, along with outfielder Josh Reddick, in exchange for three of LA’s better non-Julio Urias pitching prospects, whom we’ll discuss in a bit. Hill is one of the best comeback stories in the game. After being out of organized baseball for a while, he returned with little fanfare at the end of the 2015 season. That is, at least, until he pitched to a 1.55 ERA and struck out 34 percent of the batters he faced.
He’s been excellent with Oakland this year too. Hill has a 2.25 ERA (2.75 DRA), and though his strikeouts have come back down to Earth somewhat, he’s still one of the toughest at-bats in baseball right now. However, his season has been hampered by nagging injuries, first for a groin strain and now a blister issue on his pitching hand that currently has him sidelined.
Rich Hill became the 23rd Dodger to land on the disabled list. The Dodgers say that sets a National League record.— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) August 2, 2016
Reddick will be the new right fielder with Andre Either languishing on the DL and the Dodgers, for some reason, deigning to keep Andrew Toles in the big leagues over Yasiel Puig. He’s hit well and played good defense, as usual. He will help the team over the denouement of the season.
Hill is the player here that the Dodgers needed the most, and the player with whom they are risking quite a bit. A recurring blister issue is far from the worst thing that could ail a pitcher. If it doesn’t heal up as expected, though, it will be a headache for Los Angeles. Hill was brought on to be a force in the rotation, potentially even to start the Wild Card game (which the Dodgers are currently in line to host) if Kershaw doesn’t return.
The Dodgers need Hill to be healthy and effective as badly as they need any player on their roster to be besides perhaps Corey Seager and Kenley Jansen (and Kershaw obviously). Yes, they have Kenta Maeda and other assorted characters starting games for them, some of whom are good at tweeting. Maeda, along with Scott Kazmir, was brought in over the winter to supply quality innings. Both were mired in injury concerns, and ironically they’re the last two standing.
That’s all well and good, but Maeda is the only one of the bunch you’d even consider being comfortable with as the starter in a sudden death, win-or-go-home-with-your-tail-between-your-sad-little-legs game.
When he’s good, Kenta Maeda can hamper an offense fairly well. Hill is better at it. If the Dodgers are going to go to the postseason sans Kershaw, they need Hill to be at his best that night. They’re gambling that the 37-year-old lefty will make it there intact.
Hill, when he’s healthy and on, is one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. The other teams who are contending for a Wild Card spot have pitchers like that. The Marlins, who currently hold the second Wild Card, have Jose Fernandez. The Cardinals have Carlos Martinez. The Mets have Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. The Pirates have Gerrit Cole. Just ask the Pirates how important a dominant performance from a starting pitcher is in the Wild Card game. They’ve been repeatedly bounced from the playoffs because they keep running into a pitcher doing his best impression of a buzzsaw.
Hill hasn’t thrown 100 innings since 2010. He can’t be a buzzsaw if he isn’t healthy enough to pitch in the game. Though he has worked incredibly hard to reach this point and is obviously in excellent shape, he is not young by baseball standards. Because of their unadulterated need for impact pitching, the Dodgers had to gamble on him.
That meant giving up three quality pitching prospects. Grant Holmes has the best chance to stick as a starter, but Jharel Cotton may be able to operate in that capacity. Frankie Montas, acquired in the deal that also sent Trayce Thompson to Los Angeles, will probably wind up as a reliever, but as a damn good one. Those are all useful pieces, and ones that Oakland richly needed. The Dodgers are obviously not starved for minor league talent and will rather easily absorb the loss of those three arms. That doesn’t mean the price wasn’t high.
Reddick will be a more than capable piece for the Dodgers. He will hit and field and help LA’s offense keep the wheels moving. But this trade will live and die by the health of Hill. He’s the dominant starter they need if Kershaw cannot take the ball and go zero-for-zero with Fernandez.
It’s just so very, very fitting that the Dodgers have to wait for Hill to come off the DL before any of that can happen. In their search for a reprieve, the Dodgers may very well have found more of the same. To survive the Wild Card game, the Dodgers will need to overcome their own injury demons. Rich Hill is one of the most poetically suitable men for that job.