The Dodgers’ Rich Hill was six outs away from throwing a perfect game against the Marlins on Saturday, but manager Dave Roberts made the difficult decision to pull him after only 89 pitches. On the heels of Hill’s departure, Marlins outfielder Jeff Francoeur ended the Dodgers’ perfect game bid with an eighth-inning single off Joe Blanton.
Roberts explained why he made the move afterward, revealing that there were signs of the nagging blister on Hill’s left index finger returning, tweets Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times. Hill, who struck out nine and could have tossed the 24th perfect game in major league history, countered Roberts by telling reporters that his finger felt fine (Twitter link via Ken Gurnick of MLB.com).
The Dodgers logged a 5-0 win to improve to 80-61 – good for a 4 1/2-game lead in the National League West. However, Roberts added that this particular victory feels like a loss (Twitter link via McCullough). This isn’t the first time Roberts has elected to stop one of his pitchers from a chance at making history, though his call to remove right-hander Ross Stripling from a no-hitter in his April 8 major league debut against the Giants wasn’t nearly as controversial. Stripling had already thrown 100 pitches through 7 1/3 innings, and Roberts said it was a “no-brainer” to take the rookie out of what was a tight game.
Hill, meanwhile, has cruised all year, having compiled a 1.80 ERA, 10.42 K/9 and 2.84 BB/9 in 95 innings, but injuries have robbed him of enjoying a full campaign. While the blister issue has bothered the 36-year-old journeyman since mid-July, that didn’t stop the Dodgers from trading a haul to the Athletics for him and outfielder Josh Reddick before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. LA has reaped the rewards when Hill has pitched, as he has spun 19 scoreless innings with 20 strikeouts and two walks in three starts. Ideally for the Dodgers, Hill will serve as an integral component of a playoff rotation in October, and their World Series hopes unsurprisingly factored into Roberts’ move to pull him.
“Nothing in my opinion is worth compromising our opportunity to win a championship,” offered Roberts (Twitter link via Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register).
In addition to trying to help the Dodgers win a title, a healthy Hill could pitch his way into a rich contract during the upcoming offseason. Despite his age, limited track record and durability questions, Hill will likely cash in as arguably the best starter in a weak free agent market. Hill was toiling in the independent Atlantic League a summer ago, but he has performed like an ace since a four-start stretch with the Red Sox last September.