Rich Hill didn’t know he became the oldest Dodgers pitcher to record 10 strikeouts in a game since Dazzy Vance on Friday until a reporter informed him. Vance reached double digits in a game in 1932. He was 41 years old.
“I think I played with him my first year,” the 39-year-old Hill said after the Dodgers’ 6-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds. “Heck of a fastball. Him and Mordecai.”
That self-deprecating humor was absent after Hill’s first three starts this season. Those outings were filled with frustration over tempo, frustration over command and pitch selection, frustration over results. He got blitzed early, putting his team in a ditch in a blink. The sage left-hander expected more from himself than allowing 11 runs in 15 innings.
So Hill used his seven idle days before Friday’s start to implement adjustments. He avoided the potential lull a week off could generate and focused on the basics. He visualized the ball coming out his hand downhill, his fastball bursting with life through the zone and inducing late swings. He reminded himself that his curveball is a devastating pitch he can use in any count in any situation. He regrouped.
The result was his first dominant performance of the season in a ballgame that, in a minor modern-day miracle, lasted just 2 hours and 24 minutes at Great American Ballpark. Making his first start since last Thursday, Hill held the Reds (20-25) to two hits over six scoreless innings. He compiled 10 strikeouts -- one shy of a career high -- and didn’t walk a batter. He retired the first 10 batters he faced and the final eight he faced. He took advantage of the night’s humidity to spin his curveball as he pleased at the top of the zone and pounded the bottom of the zone with his fastball. He said he threw one splitter and got a groundball out of it.
“We really went back to the drawing board,” Hill said, “and just stuck with fastballs and breaking balls.”
Hill’s best work came against former Dodger Yasiel Puig. He struck him twice out with six pitches. They were all fastballs, challenging the overmatched Puig again and again. Puig struck out a third time against right-hander Dylan Floro on four pitches in his final at-bat in the seventh inning to complete another dismal night in his dismal season with a .203 batting average and .612 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
With Hill’s outing, Dodgers starters have allowed three runs in 40 2/3 innings over the last six games -- good for a 0.66 earned-run average. The five pitchers have combined for 49 strikeouts to five walks. The Dodgers, winners of four straight, are 5-1 during the stretch, the lone loss coming on a late-inning grand slam.
The Dodgers (30-16) supplied Hill support for the hurler with four home runs. Corey Seager belted the first one -- a two-run shot in the second inning. Joc Pederson and Max Muncy provided back-to-back homers to begin the third and Cody Bellinger smashed a leadoff home run -- his 16th this season -- in the eighth inning.
About the only blemish for the Dodgers on Friday was Justin Turner fouling a pitch off his left shin, just above his ankle guard, in the third inning. Turner grimaced in pain immediately. He completed the at-bat and stayed in the game until David Freese pinch-hit for him in the fifth inning. Turner left the game with a left shin contusion.
“I was moving around all right ,” Turner said. “It swelled up huge. I mean, it looked like a baseball was coming out of my shin. It's still a little swollen. I’ll do as much as I can tonight and come back and see how it feels tomorrow.”
The Dodgers’ game plan against Anthony DeSclafani was obvious from the outset. They sought to pounce on strikes early in the count and they pounced relentlessly. Seager’s home run came on the first pitch. Muncy’s homer was on the second pitch. The aggressiveness netted a four-run lead after three innings.
While the Dodgers were punishing baseballs, Hill was avoiding bats with pitiless efficiency. The left-hander tallied two strikeouts in each of the first four innings. He carried a no-hitter until Joey Votto blooped a single to left field with one out in the fourth inning. Eugenio Suarez hit a ground ball through the left side for consecutive hits but that was all the Reds could muster.
Hill induced 15 swinging strikes, 17 called strikes, and 25 foul balls, and threw 64 of his 84 pitches for strikes before departing. Roberts acknowledged he thought about sending Hill out for the seventh inning. But he wanted to give a couple of relievers some work, including Ross Stripling, who hadn’t pitched since May 5, and he thought about Hill making his next start on regular rest. So Hill exited with his most satisfying outing in 2019 behind him.