Hill struggles in loss to Indians
Dodgers coaches think emotions may have gotten the best of the pitcher.
CLEVELAND — Rich Hill stomped into the Dodgers dugout, flung his glove against the bench and disappeared from sight. He made this furious march twice in Thursday’s 12-5 loss to the Indians.
Once, after the first inning, when he threw 40 pitches and dumped his team in a three-run hole. And again, after the second inning, when he gave up two more runs. Then he watched from the bench as the game disappeared from reach in the fifth.
In all, Hill was charged with seven runs. He cost his club a chance for a sweep as a six-game winning streak was ended. Hill had not given up that many runs in one outing in seven years. His descent toward mediocrity, after displaying such capability in 2016, disgusted him.
“It’s not fun to go out there and suck,” Hill said. “So I’ve got to get some better results next time.”
The debacle heightened scrutiny of Hill’s performance in 2017. Signed to a three-year, $48-million contract in the winter, Hill has been beset by blisters and maddened by inconsistency. He has yet to pitch in the sixth inning this season. His earned-run average inflated to 5.14 on Thursday.
The outing spawned a conflicting array of explanations. Manager Dave Roberts suggested that Hill struggled to maintain focus on each pitch as he boiled with intensity.
Hill downplayed that notion, and attributed his trouble to insufficient execution, particularly with his curveball. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt stressed that Hill has ironed out his mechanical glitches, but conceded something could be upsetting Hill’s equilibrium.
“If you let your emotions get too high, then it can run the opposite way,” Honeycutt said. “Some people need to have that certain edge, but also the edge can also get things moving in the wrong direction sometimes.”
Away from the field, Hill exudes politeness, armed with a goofy sense of humor and a curiosity about the world. On the mound, he becomes a far more agitated figure, snarling and swearing through his outings. He often can laugh about the transformation. On Thursday, Roberts wondered whether emotion played a role in the calamity.
“I think Rich is ultracompetitive, and I think [that sometimes is a] detriment to himself,” Roberts said. “Where he’s throwing the baseball well, and he makes one bad pitch, and he tries to get back to perfection. It compounds itself. … I love the fight, but sometimes, yeah, you’ve got to keep his emotions at bay, or temper him.”
On the official record, Hill pitched only four innings. But he returned for the fifth, after a two-run homer by Chris Taylor in the fourth cut the Dodgers’ deficit to one. The team would never get closer.
Hill walked a batter and gave up a single to another before Ross Stripling surrendered a three-run homer to Indians outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall. Cleveland scored three more runs off Stripling in the sixth. Chris Hatcher yielded another home run in the seventh.
Roberts relied on Stripling and Hatcher because Kenta Maeda was not available. Maeda, the most recent addition to the relief corps, threw a bullpen session Thursday morning. He will make a spot start Sunday in Cincinnati. The Dodgers intend to give all five of the starters an extra day of rest.
And Hill will remain in the rotation — for one more turn, at least. Maeda cannot be considered a reliable alternative. Shoulder inflammation has felled Julio Urias. So the Dodgers still need Hill to contribute as a starter.
“It’s necessary for us to win a championship; he’s got to be good and be in the rotation,” Roberts said. “He knows he’s got to get better. And he’s trying.”
Hill felt heartened by his previous outing, on June 9. He completed five innings, and only one stretched into a marathon. Afterward, he mentioned technical improvements that streamlined his approach to the plate and sharpened his command. He could not recapture that form Thursday.
From the start, Hill operated under duress. He gave up a leadoff single on a 3-1 fastball. He gave up another single on a full-count fastball. Cleveland third baseman Jose Ramirez singled on a 1-1 fastball to drive in a run. Hill loaded the bases when a curveball brushed the leg of slugger Edwin Encarnacion. The unwieldiness of the curveball forced Hill to lean on his fastball.
Hill edged toward an escape, but stumbled with two outs. He issued a walk to catcher Roberto Perez, who has a .229 on-base percentage. The nightmare extended when rookie outfielder Bradley Zimmer beat Hill to the bag on an infield single.
Down three runs, Hill let the second inning resemble the first. After a one-out single by outfielder Daniel Robertson, Ramirez roped a run-scoring double. Ramirez got caught trying to steal third base, but that was only a small reprieve. Encarnacion clobbered a 2-2 fastball for a home run with the bases empty.
The Dodgers lineup pulled the club back into contention. Cody Bellinger recorded his 18th homer of the season with a solo shot in the fourth. Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig traded doubles in the fifth. Taylor bashed his two-run shot off Indians starter Josh Tomlin. A comeback appeared in reach — until Hill and Stripling frittered it away in the bottom of the inning.
CLEVELAND’S LONNIE CHISENHALL, center, is congratulated after he hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning against the Dodgers on Thursday. Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana scored on the play.