Hill unhittable in Quakes rehab start

Left-hander sharp in final outing before rejoining Dodgers

Rich Hill threw 35 of 68 pitches for strikes in his second rehab outing with Rancho Cucamonga. (Tim Cattera/MiLB.com)

By Tyler Maun / MiLB.com | May 11, 2017 2:43 AM

Last September, Dodgers left-hander Rich Hill made headlines when he was lifted from a perfect game in Miami. The precautionary move was made by Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts, mindful of the blister issue that cost Hill nearly a month of action. That day, Hill was less than pleased with the decision.

On Wednesday night in San Jose, rehabbing another blister problem, Hill was pulled after five hitless innings. So did he get animated with Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga manager Drew Saylor like he did with Roberts?

"No, no, no, no, he was definitely a little bit more subdued," Saylor said with a laugh. "I think more than anything else, he was excited to get through five innings. Just being able to go out there and compete was definitely his focus."

The veteran southpaw breezed through five hitless frames, striking out three and issuing three walks, in his final rehab outing before heading back to the big leagues as Rancho Cucamonga took down San Jose, 8-2.

Video: Rancho Cucamonga's Hill finishes five no-hit innings

Hill is returning from his second stint on the Dodgers' 10-day disabled list due to a blister on his left middle finger. In his first rehab outing on May 4, things didn't go smoothly as he recorded only two outs and was charged with four runs on three hits and a walk, but Saylor saw building blocks even on that day.

"I think looking at the previous outing, his stuff -- especially his breaking ball -- there's moments that, from an umpiring standpoint, they can almost give up on balls because it hops out," the manager said. "It has such depth to it, and I think a lot of time some of the umpires aren't used to seeing that. I think that's one of the reasons why sometimes his pitch count gets driven up because they're just not used to seeing somebody be able to throw that pitch for a strike in the Minor Leagues. Guys' balls just don't do that. And that's not really the fault of the umpires, they just need to have more recognition, more experience with it. I think that as the night went on, the zone got a little more consistent."

Box score

The second time around with the Quakes, Hill didn't leave much to the umpires. Although he put baserunners about in four of his five innings, the 37-year-old kept San Jose out of the hit column and allowed just one runner past first base -- he walked Giants No. 15 prospect Aramis Garcia in the first and plunked Dillon Dobson behind him before stranding both.

"He was very confident, very poised in his thoughts on the outing, the way that he was able to manage the at-bats and be able to compete," Saylor said. "He rolled a couple nice double plays. I think from that perspective, he was all smiles in that regard.

"I think he really executed some great pitches down in the zone with his fastball and was able to get his breaking ball for a swing-and-miss and also throw it for a strike." 

Hill was scheduled to go five innings with a maximum of 75 pitches. He ended up throwing 68, including 35 strikes, before giving way to the bullpen.

"We could tell that he was definitely in a position, from a pitching standpoint, where he felt comfortable and was able to go through the innings and get his pitch count up," Saylor said. "From that standpoint, we're really confident in that."

Video: Rancho Cucamonga's Landon makes diving catch

Most importantly, Hill was fully healthy, showing no signs of the blister resurfacing as Los Angeles feared it would that Saturday night in Miami. He's expected to rejoin the Dodgers next week.

"He was 100 percent ready to go," Saylor said. "I think you could tell that, even though it was the fifth inning, he definitely wanted to go back out there again. It was like, 'Hey, this is the rehab process. Maybe if you're pitching in Dodger Stadium, we'd have a little bit further discussion.'"

After Hill exited, the Quakes turned to second-ranked Dodgers prospect Yadier Alvarez for the first relief appearance of the young righty's career. Rehabbing Giants outfielder Denard Span and Ryan Howard broke up the no-hit bid with consecutive singles to open the sixth, but Alvarez -- MLB.com's No. 42 overall prospect -- began to find his groove.

"I think the first inning or two, he was still trying to get settled in," Saylor said. "A lot of times when you're a starter, you go into those games and it's a different feel. You come in, you look up at the scoreboard, there's already been some action on the bases, you see some crooked numbers up there. It's a little bit of a different environment that you walk into. I think as the outing went on, he got a little bit stronger."

Howard stroked a two-run single to left in the seventh, but Alvarez retired seven of the final eight batters on the way to his first professional save.

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"The eighth inning, for me, was the one where it really looked like he beared down," Saylor said. "His tempo got a little bit quicker. He got a little bit more -- I wouldn't say excited -- but he got a little bit faster. That was a great thing for him looking at his outing because he was more on the offensive. He was in attack mode, and I think that carried over into the ninth."

Dodgers No. 19 prospect DJ Peters led the way at the plate for Rancho Cucamonga, going 3-for-4 with a double and four RBIs.

Span collected two singles in four at-bats. The 33-year-old is working his way back to the Majors from a sternoclavicular joint sprain.

Tyler Maun is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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