No hits. No walks. Nine strikeouts. Rich Hill was working a perfect outing through seven innings against the Marlins Saturday, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts ended his night at 89 pitches.
Surely, Hill could have gone at least another inning. A triple-digit pitch count is usually when a manager starts weighing the health of his pitcher against the achievement he’s pursuing. But Roberts wasn’t going to let Hill get to that point. He pulled his flawless starter for Joe Blanton, who served up a two-out hit to Jeff Francoeur. It was over, and Roberts didn’t enjoy his responsibility.
Hill, who was traded to the Dodgers from the Athletics in July, had dealt with recurring blisters on his pitching hand, along with a separate groin injury, during the season. This was his third start since July 17. He had actually skipped an Aug. 30 start against the Rockies because his blister issue had returned. Last night, Roberts cited the ailment as the reason for his decision.
It really, really sucks, because the 36-year-old will probably never get this close to a perfect game for the rest of his career, but Roberts made the smart move for his team. The Dodgers have a four-game lead in the NL West, along with four starting pitchers on the disabled list: Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Scott Kazmir. Clayton Kershaw just returned from the DL, and the Dodgers are hoping that with good timing and a little bit of luck, they can make a postseason run with a somewhat healthy rotation. This is why a man who had a chance to become the 24th MLB player to ever reach this accomplishment runs his hands through his hair in the dugout and talks about the team after the game:
This move isn’t really a sign of the pussification of baseball (great take, C.J.) so much as an extreme decision made in extreme circumstances. The very thing that would have made a perfect game so special—Hill’s incredible fragility, which has allowed him to start more than 16 games just twice in his career, and has made his emergence as an ace at 36 after eight years in the wilderness a near-miracle—is what forced Roberts’s hand. From his perspective, he may have had a choice between giving the pitcher, who will most likely chase one-year contracts for the rest of his playing career, a shot at making history or at celebrating the Dodgers’ first title in nearly 30 years. There wasn’t a right answer—or a wrong one.