Meet­ing ‘Psy­cho Rich’

Dodgers’ Hill is re­ally some­thing else on the mound

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Andy McCul­lough

As her hus­band Rich stepped into the bat­ter’s box, Caitlin Hill lifted her iPhone, cen­tered the cam­era and pressed record. She was sit­ting a dozen rows be­hind Citi Field’s home plate last week­end with their 5year-old son, Brice. Caitlin joked to Brice that they might see his­tory: Rich’s first home run. In­stead the video memo­ri­al­ized his al­ter ego, a man one of his Dodgers team­mates dubbed “Psy­cho Rich.”

When Mets pitcher Seth Lugo fired a 93 mph fast­ball, Hill lunged to bunt. He whiffed, whirled around and un­leashed a one-word ex­ple­tive into the sum­mer af­ter­noon air. The noise perked up Brice’s ears.

“Daddy! Why did you yell?” Brice said. He turned to his mother. “Why is Daddy yelling?” Caitlin could only laugh. Over the past two sea-

sons as a Dodger, Hill has earned ac­claim for his cre­ativ­ity and his dar­ing, his will­ing­ness to im­pro­vise within games, shift­ing the an­gle of his arm and tog­gling the shape of his curve­ball. His artistry as a pitcher may be matched only by his abil­ity to ex­press him­self in col­or­ful lan­guage.

Mild-man­nered away from the di­a­mond, Hill trans­forms into a snarling, swear­ing brute on the mound. Sweat pours down his face. He skips af­ter his de­liv­ery and stomps to­ward the plate. Ex­ple­tives es­cape his mouth in in­ven­tive fash­ion. His team­mates gig­gle at the sight. The sto­ries they tell are mostly un­print­able, tales of Hill chastis­ing him­self on the di­a­mond, on the bench, in the tun­nel lead­ing to the club­house. “I think it’s fun­nier when he’s on the mound than when he comes into the dugout,” util­ity man En­rique Her­nan­dez said. “When he comes into the dugout, it’s kind of scary.”

Hill sur­vived a dif­fer­ent sort of scare in Fri­day’s 4-3 loss to San Diego. A 92 mph fast­ball from Padres pitcher con­nected with his Adam’s ap­ple while he was try­ing to bunt.

Hill looked stricken when he fell to the ground, but stayed in the game. He fin­ished with nine strike­outs in six in­nings of two-run base­ball, and left in line for a vic­tory. The lead dis­ap­peared when Ross Stripling sur­ren­dered home runs in the seventh and eighth. Hill was taken to a hos­pi­tal for tests af­ter the game. Man­ager Dave Roberts de­scribed the visit as “pre­cau­tion­ary.”

Hill is not the only Dodgers starter to flash emo­tion on the mound. Clay­ton Ker­shaw roils with emo­tion. Alex Wood sparked a skir­mish in June when he threat­ened to drill a Padre for steal­ing signs. But the gap be­tween Hill’s off-field calm and his car­toon­ish in­ten­sity while pitch­ing amuses his team­mates more than the oth­ers. “It’s not fake,” Hill said. “It’s gen­uine. I’m not try­ing to be any­thing other than who I am, and be in that mo­ment.”

On the four days be­fore he pitches, Hill is an ami­able, agree­able fel­low. He is open and avail­able with re­porters. He traf­fics in goofy hu­mor — he makes puns and can re­cite snip­pets of Robin Wil­liams’ standup. He phi­los­o­phizes about the ne­ces­sity of con­vic­tion, and stresses the im­por­tance of “re­ally be­ing pas­sion­ate about what you’re do­ing.”

Hill cast his fe­roc­ity as an ex­ten­sion of that ethos, an ex­am­ple of “ex­press­ing my­self through that in­ten­sity,” he said. He does not per­form for the cam­eras. On quiet morn­ings at Camel­back Ranch this spring, Hill could be heard curs­ing at him­self dur­ing bullpen ses­sions.

“He’s con­stantly re­fin­ing and fine-tun­ing,” Caitlin Hill said. “He’s al­ways try­ing to get bet­ter. It’s al­ways there. It’s never enough.”

The Dodgers learned this soon af­ter ac­quir­ing Hill last sum­mer. Midway through his first start that Au­gust, Justin Turner went to the mound to give Hill the base­ball af­ter a pair of loud outs. Hill was sput­ter­ing with rage. “They’re light­ing me up!” Hill screamed. “You’ve got two outs, dude,” Turner re­minded him.

“You’re right!” Hill said. He grabbed the base­ball and went back to work. Turner re­turned to third base, think­ing “This guy is awe­some.”

A few weeks later, Hill took ex­cep­tion when Di­a­mond­backs pitcher Archie Bradley threw a pitch in­side to him. Hill was try­ing to bunt. The ball darted within strik­ing dis­tance of Hill’s fin­gers. Hill was livid as he ran down the line. “Throw the ... ball over the plate!” Hill yelled at Bradley.

In time, pitch­ing coach Rick Hon­ey­cutt learned when it was best to ap­proach Hill in be­tween in­nings. Roberts came to un­der­stand that Hill’s anger at be­ing re­moved from games was not per­sonal. “He feels that he can throw 140 pitches ev­ery sin­gle day,” Roberts said. “And that’s great. It’s never, ever been dis­re­spect­ful.”

The out­bursts can cre­ate ex­tra re­spon­si­bil­ity for Hill’s catch­ers. At times, ei­ther Yas­mani Gran­dal or Austin Barnes will re­mind the um­pire that Hill is not talk­ing to them. Barnes said he has heard op­po­nents ques­tion Hill’s san­ity on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions. “I think the hit­ters some­times don’t know how to re­act,” Barnes said.

That per­spec­tive aids Hill’s ap­proach. He does not rely on pris­tine com­mand. His fast­ball ve­loc­ity hov­ers around 89 mph, but he still at­tacks with it. He does not rely on fi­nesse. “What was it Mike Tyson said?” Hill said. “Ev­ery­body has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

Ear­lier this sum­mer, Roberts won­dered if Hill’s in­ten­sity was back­fir­ing. Roberts felt Hill strug­gled to re­fo­cus af­ter mis­for­tune within games, es­pe­cially af­ter a seven-run past­ing by Cleve­land on June 15. Hill dis­agreed with Roberts’ as­sess­ment, but he did not idle. He tin­kered with his de­liv­ery, and the changes have re­sulted in a 2.33 ERA in his last nine starts.

A few days ago in Ari­zona, Hill acted as the catcher while a few team­mates im­per­son­ated him. He fed closer Ken­ley Jansen, who dropped the base­ball and mut­tered a few ex­ple­tives.

“OK, one more angry fast­ball,” Jansen said, wind­ing up with his left arm and flut­ter­ing the base­ball to­ward Hill. Jansen fin­ished the de­liv­ery with an ex­ag­ger­ated leg kick.

Jansen looked like a punter con­tort­ing his body to avoid the on­com­ing rush. Hill chuck­led and trot­ted out of the room. As he left, a re­porter asked Hill to rate the im­pres­sion.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Hill said, self-con­scious as he bounced a ball off a con­crete wall. “Hard for me to say.”

Luis Sinco Los Angeles Times

A BUNT at­tempt didn’t go so well for Dodgers starter Rich Hill, who was struck by the ball in the fourth in­ning. He was able to re­turn to the mound.

Luis Sinco Los Angeles Times

RICH HILL is a mild-man­nered man off the field, but when the Dodgers pitcher is on the mound, he can be moody and prone to ex­ple­tives. “When he comes into the dugout, it’s kind of scary, ” a team­mate says.

Luis Sinco Los Angeles Times

DODGERS catcher Austin Barnes pre­pares to tag the Padres’ Hunter Ren­froe dur­ing the third in­ning.

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