Was Dave Roberts right to pull Rich Hill after seven perfect innings?

Mark TownsendYahoo Sports Contributor
Big League Stew

Holding any position of authority can be a stressful and often times thankless job. You don’t have to tell that twice to Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who finds himself being second-guessed yet again after pulling starter Rich Hill on Saturday night after seven perfect innings.

The first-year skipper has already faced more stressful situations than most managers do in three or four seasons, and that’s just due to the Dodgers record-setting injury woes. The unusual circumstances of truly managing a historic pitching performance only adds fuel to the fire.

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The first decision came on April 8 in San Francisco, when Roberts pulled Ross Stripling after 7 1/3 no-hit innings in his major-league debut. On that night, he cited Stripling’s pitch count, which reached 100 exactly. It was a controversial decision, made more painful by the Dodgers losing the game in extra innings, but Stripling’s father actually thanked Roberts for protecting his son’s arm.

Rich Hill was pulled Saturday seven innings into a perfect game bid against the Marlins. (AP)
Rich Hill was pulled Saturday seven innings into a perfect game bid against the Marlins. (AP)

That leads us to the Dodgers 5-0 win against the Marlins. Roberts elected to pull starter Rich Hill after seven absolutely perfect innings. We’d even say efficient innings, as Hill required just 89 pitches. Under normal circumstances, a manager wouldn’t even consider pulling a pitcher in the middle of a perfect game with only 89 pitches, but Hill’s circumstances aren’t normal.

Let us explain.

Three weeks ago, Hill was the source of much frustration in Los Angeles when reoccurring blisters kept delaying his Dodgers debut. His last start with the Oakland A’s came on July 17. His first start after the deadline trade with the Dodgers didn’t come until Aug. 24. That’s a five-week layoff, and that has no doubt played into Roberts’ being cautious with Hill’s workload.

The blisters themselves were a factor too , as Roberts pointed out in his postgame press conference.

When the blisters haven’t been a factor, Hill has not only been the Dodgers hottest pitcher, he’s been the hottest pitcher in MLB. Now three starts into his Dodgers’ tenure, he’s yet to allow a run over 19 innings. In fact, he’s only allowed six hits and two walks. That highlights how good he can be when healthy, while also highlighting the importance of keeping him healthy.

That’s Roberts’ mindset right now. The Dodgers have bigger fish to fry than the Marlins. The Dodgers control their own destiny in the NL West, and will have an opportunity to play deep into October.  But it doesn’t mean he’s feeling any less conflicted about ending a bid for perfection.

It’s all about risk and reward. If the reward is throwing only the 24th perfect game in MLB history, then yeah, many would say with the risk it’s worth it. It’s a chance to achieve something unique and very special. Hill could have joined Sandy Koufax as the only two Dodgers pitchers to go 27 up, 27 down against a major-league lineup.

If the ultimate goal though is a World Series championship, then others would argue nothing should compromise that mission. And certainly not an individual achievement.

That there’s no truly right or wrong answer there makes it a lose-lose for situation for Roberts. That’s why he felt more like a losing manager on after the game than a manager closing in on a division championship.

Deep down though, he knows he made a decision he’s OK with. Otherwise he would have done the opposite. We may not like it, but it’s OK that Roberts is prioritizing health to win later. He may not like it either, but it’s also OK that people are frustrated because they wanted to see history at all costs. We’re all fueled by being a part of moments. Sometimes we just have different views of what the ultimate moment is.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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