Rich Hill returning as a playoff reliever may not be all bad for the Dodgers

On Friday, I wrote about what the Dodgers’ bullpen might look like come October. Contained within was a look at the starting rotation. There are three easy locks in the form of Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The fourth spot would be determined by Rich Hill‘s health.

The good news is the Dodgers (seemingly) expect Hill to be healthy enough to pitch in the postseason. The bad news is, well, this:

That’s a bummer, but it may not be as big a blow as it appears on the surface. It’s hard to say that about a pitcher who has a 2.66 ERA, .585 OPS against and a 16.7 K-BB% in 47 1/3 postseason innings as a Dodger, but this could end up being a kinda-sorta good thing.

As of now, you might pencil in Kenta Maeda into the No. 4 spot. I mean, that’s his role at present. But if the last two postseasons are any indicator, the Dodgers are probably moving him to the bullpen because they’ll need the help there.

I posited that 21-year-old Dustin May could claim that spot since Ross Stripling isn’t yet healthy and basically in the same boat as Hill. Of course, there’s the worry about putting too much strain on May in terms of an innings count. And if he is a candidate for the postseason rotation, postseason innings come with a bit more stress than an early-August game with an 18-game divisional lead. May’s career-high in innings pitched is 134, set back in 2017. He hit 132 2/3 innings last season, so the Dodgers have done a good job of managing his workload in the minors. Between the minors and LA this season, he’s at 106 2/3. With about six weeks left (and if he remains in the rotation), May could make at least that many starts. If you figure 5 IP/GS (on the low side), he’ll come in just above his career-high — and honestly, he’s probably going to best it. The concern about him wearing down in the postseason is legitimate, so maybe teaming May with Hill (and/or Julio Urias) to get the Dodgers through 6-7 innings could be the way to go in the playoffs.

Look what the Astros did in the 2017 World Series. Lance McCullers and Brad Peacock combined to pitch Houston to a 5-3 Game 3 win over the Dodgers. McCullers went 5 1/3 innings while Peacock threw 3 2/3 innings. I’m not saying a May-Hill combination should be expected to throw all nine innings (I mean, they can, but it shouldn’t be expected), but if the Dodgers can get 18-21 outs between the two of them, that would go a long way to alleviating some pressure on the bullpen, because we know games in October tend to be a lot closer than they are in the regular season. Also, this wouldn’t be a long-term proposition, as the Dodgers might be in a position to use this tandem three times in October, if they’re lucky, and more likely twice.

Not only that, May and Hill are couldn’t be any more different in terms of pitching philosophies. May does it from the right side with a high-velocity sinker, a cutter and curveball that he has yet to find in the majors. Hill does it from the left side with a high-spin 4-seam fastball that struggles to hit 91 MPH on the gun and one of the best curveballs in the game. Having two guys giving different looks could keep the opposing lineup off-guard a bit.

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Yes, it’d be ideal if Hill were healthy and ready to go 6-plus innings in the postseason (something he has done just twice in 10 playoff starts with the Dodgers), but having the proverbial two-headed monster occupying one spot in the starting rotation could end up being an advantage.

We’ll see what happens in six weeks’ time. But having a healthy Rich Hill — in any capacity — would be a bonus for the Dodgers. Pairing him with a young gun like May could end up being the perfect combination.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.