Rich Hill is one of several Dodgers’ pitchers to battle injury this season. However, unlike his peers, Hill should be moved to the ‘pen when he returns.
Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda have all hit the disabled list from the Dodgers starting rotation. Julio Urias has not been present to aid the situation, as he is still recovering from shoulder surgery.
Two guys have primarily stepped up in his injury-infested time: Walker Buehler and Ross Stripling. Buehler was predictable. He was the organization’s top prospect with electric stuff that screamed ace-worthy.
Stripling, on the other hand, was not so predictable. A minor league starter turned MLB long arm, Stripling lost his place as a starter in the MLB. After making 14 starts for the Dodgers in 2016, Stripling was limited to two starts in 2017 and 47 relief appearances.
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The two starts combined were limited to five innings. It was clear that Stripling was not viewed as a starter anymore.
That was until Stripling started dominantly out of the bullpen in 2018 and earned a spot in a rotation that needed arms. Nobody expected what would happen next.
In five starts this May, Stripling has allowed four earned runs over 29 innings pitched. That amounts to a 1.24 ERA. He has struck out 40 batters in that frame, including 28 in his last three starts alone.
Not only is Stripling pitching at an elite level, he is disproving any concerns about his durability.
After having a relatively short lease, Stripling has thrown 90 or more pitches in his last three starts. Sixty-five percent of his pitches thrown this season have come in the last three games.
This raises a problem for the Los Angeles Dodgers once the rotation gets healthy. Kershaw is set to return, assuming the position Maeda leaves behind as he hits the DL, keeping Brock Stewart in the rotation.
After Maeda’s 10-day DL stint the Dodgers will have five starting pitchers: Kershaw, Maeda, Buehler, Stripling and Alex Wood. Once Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill return it creates even more complication.
Hill is a $16 million man and Ryu was pitching phenomenally pre-injury. If Stripling and Buehler continue their success, it is going to be very hard to pull either out of the rotation.
Thus, at least when Hill returns, the Dodgers should not tweak the starting rotation. Instead, the team should look to reinvent Hill as a long-relief arm out of the bullpen.
It sounds crazy, I know, but it makes a ton of sense with what Hill is dealing with. Hill is either completely dominant or pretty lackluster. However, he is usually great for at least an inning or two, the middle innings often determining whether or not the wheels will fall off.
And while his arm is fine, his constant struggles with blisters and other finger issues raise serious concerns over Hill’s durability.
Hill can get deep into pitch counts but rarely can get deep into games. He could not get through the sixth inning in either of the two starts in which he made 90 pitches this year. He lost both games. In fact, in his last 20 starts (dating back to last season) Hill has had just two outings go at least seven innings.
While six innings are the typical bare minimum target for starting pitching, he has struggled to get deep into games. As the blister problems evolve, that will only get harder.
Plus, it is probably better on Hill’s fingers to throw only 40-60 pitches, at most, per outing. Constantly going deep in the pitch count, and not deep in the game, is going to put more stress on his fingers because of the way he throws his curveball. More stress means easier blisters.
However, with a reduced workload, Hill can keep his arm fresh by making multiple appearances while limiting the amount of pressure put on his fingers at one time.
Meanwhile, Stripling can continue to deliver for the Dodgers. While his current numbers are unsustainable, he is a natural starter, after all, and has deserved an extending look in the starting rotation.
And if it does not work out, the two can simply switch roles again. While Hill may not like the idea of pitching out of the bullpen, it may be what is best for the Dodgers.