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So you’ve crafted, in your mid-thirties, a magnificent comeback, grounded in part on a couple starts for a team based in Central Islip, N.Y., which is neither in the American nor the National League.
You’ve believed in it, and your family has believed, everybody going along with the plan, which would have required a great deal of faith in things such as elbow ligaments and spin rates and orb tilts and batters’ gullibility and gravity and the friction created when a baseball is gripped and released and spun and hoisted into what can only be described as an unfriendly world that defends itself with long, heavy sticks.
This comeback achieves such grace as to be rewarded with admiration and riches, in a place where palm trees sway beneath blue skies, so all that is left is to continue to hoist baseballs into those skies, blissful and untroubled, if wearing a cup.
Except your damned finger keeps getting puffy and filled with puss and blood and leaking all over your happy little comeback, not to mention your baseball pants.
So, wouldn’t you know, starter Rich Hill is back on the disabled list because of a blister, and the Dodgers would appear to have little idea of how to cure or prevent it, and neither would Rich Hill himself, and neither does anyone really, so here they are, testing the organizational strategy that is three-fold: depth, depth, depth. And two weeks in, Dodgers starters are averaging 16 outs and an ERA near four and that includes 20 percent of those starts by Clayton Kershaw.
So restart the cycle.
So rest comes and goes. Remedies come and go. Prevention plans come and go.
And then Rich Hill stands on a pitcher’s mound surrounded by people whose only reaction is to summon someone new to pitch for a while. It’s all their reaction can be, really, given that Hill throws a baseball for a living, and throwing a baseball results in him not being able to throw a baseball anymore, and allowing for all the stuff that could go wrong with a pitcher’s body this is a little like totaling your car because the side-view mirror is fogged up.
The ailment threatened to torpedo last summer’s trade for Hill, until the blistering was resolved temporarily. Now the Dodgers are a couple payments into a three-year, $48 million contract with Hill. Maybe they’ll figure it out and Hill will make 90 starts in that time, and follow Clayton Kershaw in a lot of October series, but in the meantime manager Dave Roberts would sit in the home dugout this week and say, basically, the organization has little idea how to fix this or to treat it going forward.
The easy answer is to allow the blister to heal through inactivity. And yet, Roberts pointed out, “He was shut down all winter and it came back.” Ergo, he said, “You could argue that resting it isn’t the solution.” Clearly, not resting it might also be a problem.
The easy answer is to throw fewer curveballs, which, apparently, create the stress that creates the blisters. Except the curveball is the pitch that gets all those batters out and made Hill worth all that money. Or, perhaps, to re-grip the curveball, except that’s how he throws it in order to get it to do the things it does. To which Roberts said, “We’re open to anything right now. We’re kind of baffled.”
One possibility is to have Hill throw out of the bullpen in the short term, so that the blister that forms on the 30th or 40th or 50th pitch never bubbles up, because there is no 30th or 40th or 50th pitch. Or, perhaps, as you might speculate, the frequency of work required of a reliever actually serves to further inflame the vulnerable area, as the rest periods are shorter.
The Dodgers are open to suggestions. The comeback that is so cool because Rich Hill seems a good, earnest man who worked his butt off to earn a big-league uniform, never mind $16 million a year, could use your suggestions too. The franchise’s hopes to win for the first time in about three decades is, also, all ears. Not saying that the whole thing rests on Rich Hill’s puffy, bloody, chapped middle finger, but, then, maybe it does.
The solution could be extreme.
“I’d love to give him my middle finger,” Roberts said. “There’s a lot of miles left on it.”
So there you go.
Platoon bias being what it is, and Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb being a 26-year-old left-handed hitter who batted .164 in 110 tries against lefties last season, and who otherwise was a stud, you wonder if this will work itself out or if Lamb will be so typecast. In spite of the lefty anchor, Lamb OPSed .821 in 2016, third among qualifying NL third basemen, behind Nolan Arenado and Justin Turner. After a couple weeks in 2017, he’s again running just behind Arenado and Turner (and Eugenio Suarez), while small-sampling a .188 batting average against left-handers.
It sounds as though manager Torey Lovullo intends to play Lamb against all comers. Lamb has started 13 of 14 games, the 14th being against Clayton Kershaw. Sometimes, it seems, players hit themselves into platoons, while other times organizations are too willing to pigeonhole young players as something less than complete, in part because staying with a struggling hitter could cost a win or two, and a win or two could cost a GM or a manager his job. A platoon is born.
“Just trying to get better,” Lamb said this week. “Just trying to have quality at-bats against guys. The staff sees that.”
This undoubtedly will jinx him, and this comes in a time when strikeouts are regarded as baseball’s version of people who don’t use their blinkers (a sad fact of life, but whatever), but Mookie Betts hasn’t struck out yet, and I say “yet” assuming he will, at some point, strike out, but that he hasn’t yet is pretty remarkable. He’s played in 11 of the Red Sox’s 14 games, plowed through 50 plate appearances, walked five times and put everything else in play. He last struck out in a regular-season game on Sept. 12, 128 plate appearances ago, last struck out in a game anyone watched in Game 1 of Boston’s division series against Trevor Bauer and the Indians. So, maybe he’s just hacking early? Not really. He has reached two strikes in 23 of those 50 plate appearances, and he has seen four pitches per plate appearance, which is about average.
Jimmy Rollins, who didn’t make it out of Giants camp, remains hopeful for a big-league opportunity. He batted .224 (with a .287 on-base percentage) across the past two seasons with the Dodgers and White Sox, was five for 40 in spring training and is 38 years old, but feels he has more left in him.
Early bullpen ugliness has struck the Cardinals (6.69 ERA), Royals (6.05), Tigers (6.75), Nationals (6.16), Mariners (5.83), Rangers (5.44) and Blue Jays (5.11). Already there are new closers in Philadelphia and Texas. Zach Britton has a strained forearm in Baltimore, Sam Dyson a bruised hand, three blown saves and a 27.00 ERA in Texas, and Seung-hwan Oh, in St. Louis, has given up one or more runs in four of his five appearances. Two weeks isn’t a trend, but it might not be far from one, and when they start telling you about all the runs being scored, maybe it’s not about the hitters.
Assuming the Braves haven’t run away with it by then, the NL East has itself a weekend in Queens, where the Mets host the Nationals.
Friday: Tanner Roark vs. Jacob deGrom
Saturday: Gio Gonzalez vs. Matt Harvey
Sunday: Zack Wheeler vs. Max Scherzer
Something to consider: Scherzer has made seven starts against the Mets as a National. In them, he has a 1.44 ERA. In 50 1/3 innings, he’s struck out 70 and walked nine.
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