After losing game, Dodgers pleased to have not lost Rich Hill

PHOENIX -- Just when the Los Angeles Dodgers found a top of the pitching rotation they were pleased with, it nearly was broken up in a split second Thursday.

Los Angeles Dodgers starter Rich Hill was hit on the left index finger while attempting a bunt in the fifth inning, then expressed enough anger toward Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Archie Bradley that both benches and dugouts cleared.

There was no further incident, and Hill later said there were no hard feelings, but it was easier for the anxiety to die down once there was no injury concern. Losing the game 7-3 was far easier to bear than losing Hill with two weeks remaining in the regular season would have been.

“I think that when I look at the video and I heard from the coaches how close it was, it’s probably more frightening that it almost hit his pitching finger,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It was pretty close as I understood it. At that moment, I was just trying to figure out what was going on.”

Hill didn’t need much time for analysis. He actually bunted the ball into fair territory despite it making contact with his finger. And as he ran down the first-base line, he could be seen shouting expletives at Bradley. And after the out was recorded at first base, Hill continued to shout at the Diamondbacks pitcher.

When the benches cleared, Clayton Kershaw was one of the first Dodgers over the dugout railing. Cooler heads prevailed, and when Bradley came to the plate the next half inning, Hill struck him out on four consecutive slow breaking balls.

“I think it was just competitiveness,” Hill said. “I just wanted him to get the ball over the plate. That was simply it. Really, that was the end of it. There was no ill will or anything like that. It was just competitive and I got excited.”

Who could blame Hill really? He spent six weeks on the disabled list with blister issues on two different fingers, including the one that Bradley hit with the pitch. He was traded while still on the disabled list and was making just his fourth start with the Dodgers, a team he has been on for a month and a half.

Hill insisted that despite the ball hitting the index finger on his pitching hand, he was fine.

“I came in and saw that the pitch was supposed to be inside and he just missed,” Hill said. “I just think that maybe being a pitcher I just got too excited.”

Warnings were issued to both teams, but the only fight from then on came from the Diamondbacks' offense, which ran away with the game thanks to a five-run sixth inning that chased Hill. When the Diamondbacks’ Kyle Jensen hit a second-inning home run off Hill, it ended the left-hander’s 20-inning scoreless streak and his streak of 27 consecutive batters retired. Hill had thrown seven perfect innings Saturday in Miami before his day was cut short because of a pitch restriction.

Hill ended up throwing 93 pitches Thursday, his most in a single game with the Dodgers. He threw 89 over his seven innings during his previous start.

“The reason we lost is that I just did not execute tonight,” Hill said. “That’s what it came down to, is making better pitches and unfortunately I didn’t do that. It’s frustrating, especially at this point of the season. It’s unacceptable.”

The Dodgers have seen enough from Hill in his short time with the club to know that if his curveball is working he is going to be able to get outs. Hill figures to get at least three more starts to get back in sync and get into a rotation flow with staff ace Kershaw.

Assuming the Dodgers land a postseason spot and advance to the division series, Hill is expected to follow Kershaw in the rotation, with Kenta Maeda pitching after those two.

The Dodgers see promise in a Kershaw-Hill duo. It is what made Hill’s close call Thursday that much more troublesome.

Hill’s fire Thursday, and his displeasure with being removed from his perfect game last weekend, showed that his intensity matches favorably to a certain team pitching ace.

“They’re very comparable and I think that is what makes these two guys elite pitchers,” Roberts said about both Hill and Kershaw. “They feel that they can get any hitter out at any point in time, they want to finish a game they start and they are focused on getting guys out. It’s great, and I love the competitiveness. It’s just my job to kind of navigate through it.”