On Saturday night, Yasiel Puig raced toward the monstrosity that occupies left-center field at Marlins Park and laid out to make an incredible sprawling catch that ended the seventh inning. It came on Rich Hill’s 89th pitch and kept his bid for a perfect game alive. Dave Roberts was now tasked with making an impossible decision.
There goes Puig making his manager's job difficult again. That catch just made it a lot tougher for Dave Roberts to pull Rich Hill— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) September 11, 2016
Should he roll the dice and let Hill continue his quest to become just the 24th pitcher in major league history to throw a perfect game? Or, should he pull him, to help ensure that the blister the Dodgers have worked so hard to keep at bay remains dormant?
The game was well in hand, with the Dodgers leading by five runs and holding a 98.5 percent win expectancy according to FanGraphs. Roberts’ decision had to weigh individual glory against what’s in the best interest of the team as they head toward the playoffs. It must have been an agonizing choice, but in the end Roberts chose to remember that flags fly forever and that Hill is vital to the Dodgers’ World Series aspirations.
He made the right call.
It’s important to remember that Saturday night in Miami was just the third start that Hill had made for the Dodgers since his trade from the Oakland A’s. The previous two starts saw him throw a total of 81 and 89 pitches, respectively. In between those starts Hill was scratched in Colorado because of concerns that the blister was resurfacing after throwing in the bullpen before a rainout. At the time, Roberts had this to say about why they scratched Hill:
“Looking at it throughout the day, there was a little bit of heat and a little bit of tenderness,” Roberts said. “Every player feels they can get through it. But I don’t think a blister can be willed to stay healthy, no matter how much will he has. It’s just more to err on the side of caution.”
Since Hill’s acquisition, the Dodgers have consistently erred on the side of caution. Roberts’ decision to remove Hill from Saturday’s game was a continuation of an organizational philosophy when it comes to handling Hill’s health.
Roberts said he feels sick to his stomach about the decision. But the blister was a concern.— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) September 11, 2016
Roberts said there was "heat" on Hill's finger, a sign of the blister resurfacing.— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) September 11, 2016
Even the slightest hint of a reoccurrence of Hill’s blister issues makes the decision to pull him a no-brainer. When he has pitched this year, Hill has posted a 1.80 ERA, 2.30 FIP, and 2.93 DRA, good for 3.5 fWAR in just 95 innings of work. Although his emergence as an ace has come in the twilight years of his career, Hill has established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. If the Dodgers have a healthy Hill to pair with a healthy Clayton Kershaw in the postseason, their quest to end the franchise’s 28-year World Series drought seems much more attainable.
It’s fair to wonder how the move would be received by the Dodgers’ clubhouse, and by Hill himself. Were it to upset players a great deal maybe the correct course of action would’ve been to let Hill attempt to finish the game. This is a consideration that should not be brushed aside but one that is also not perceptible to those outside the Dodgers’ locker room. By all accounts Roberts is a a classic “players’ manager” who has the complete respect of his team and an open line of communication with them. Perhaps this is why after the game, sentiment from the Dodgers’ players seemed to echo the thinking of their manager.
The consensus from Dodgers players: This sucks, but we need Rich Hill to be healthy in October.— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) September 11, 2016
Nobody would want to come out in that situation..however it will be nice to have one of the best pitchers in baseball healthy going forward.— Brett Anderson (@BrettAnderson35) September 11, 2016
Rich Hill "I get it. Obviously I didn’t want to come out of the game. But there's a bigger picture here and I think we all know what it is"— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) September 11, 2016
When Roberts removed Dodgers rookie Ross Stripling from a no-hitter earlier in the year in San Francisco, it was a tough call, but it was dwarfed by the decision he was forced to make on Saturday. No-hitters are great, but they’re not nearly as impressive as perfect games. A rookie coming off Tommy John surgery with wavering command in cold and rainy weather is much easier to pull from a game than a 36-year-old who has repeatedly stared baseball mortality in the face and overcome. A chance to be perfect for one night is rare, and in all likelihood an opportunity Rich Hill will never get again.
And still, Roberts was right. He was protecting his organization’s long term goals and his player’s short-term health. The Dodgers have played it safe with Hill’s blister problem, and they shouldn’t let one game change that approach.
Of course, none of that lessens the disappointment. Seeing a guy not afforded the opportunity to finish a perfect game because of preventative health concerns is a huge bummer. It does not mean we are witnessing the continued “wussification” of sports, and it does not signify the “neutering” of baseball. Sure, Old Hoss Radbourn would have gone back out there, but he died before they discovered penicillin, so what does he know?
In the present, this was simply a random confluence of circumstances that allowed for excellence to be reined in by prudence. Dave Roberts, a rookie manager, should be applauded for having the fortitude to follow through with the decision he knew was best.
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Chris Anders is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @MrChrisAnders.