How Will Dodgers Create a Roster Spot for Rich Hill?

Rich+Hill
(Mandatory Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The good news is that Rich Hill‘s blister issues weren’t as serious as some initially perceived, as the veteran lefty is set to take the mound in the Dodgers‘ third contest of a four-game set against the Diamondbacks on Sunday afternoon.

“I could have been stubborn and continued to pitch through it,” Hill told reporters on Friday. “I’m trying to avoid the scenario we had last year.”

The bad news is the management crew of the Dodgers will need to once again tweak the 25-man roster to make space for his return.

Just exactly how creative the front office will get, though, remains to be seen.

There aren’t an overwhelming number of pitchers in either the starting rotation or the bullpen who have options remaining on their contracts, but those who do — Alex Wood, Ross Stripling and Grant Dayton — are arguably three of the best arms on the big league roster.

Wood appears to be absolutely legit this season, having already thrown 5-2/3 innings to the tune of a 1.59 ERA. He has one start and one relief appearance each under his belt, but perhaps more importantly, he has reinvented his four-seam fastball. In the past, he was notoriously known for his two-seam, but this season he continues to crank his heater upwards of 95 MPH on a regular basis. And even though Wood does have options, the tone of skipper Dave Roberts‘ voice suggests that he probably won’t be demoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City, but instead will shift back to the big league bullpen.

“I think he understands the value of his role. He’ll still be relevant,” Roberts said of Wood. “We understand he wants to be a starter, but for right now, it’s best for him to be in the bullpen.”

Stripling has been throwing amazingly well this season, especially in high leverage situations. So far in 2017, the 27-year-old righty has posted a 1.42 ERA with 10 strikeouts and no walks over 6-1/3 innings of work. He has undoubtedly proven to the coaching staff that he’s not valuable only as a swing man in middle innings, but also in setup-type scenarios when the game’s on the line.

Dayton has picked up right where he left off last year. In five appearances, the lefty has logged 4-2/3 innings with a 0.857 WHIP, having surrendered only two hits and no earned runs while striking out four batters. After making his major league debut in July of last season, the 29-year-old late bloomer went on to register a 2.50 ERA with a 0.759 WHIP and a 13.3 K/9 over 26-1/3 innings pitched.

To option any one of the aforementioned trio to OKC would be nothing short of criminal.

Hard-throwing righty Josh Fields may have been a choice to ship back to Oklahoma City with Hill’s return, however, the 31-year-old Fields was already optioned when reliever Pedro Baez was reinstated from the 10-day disabled list on Friday afternoon.

Alternatively, the team may decide to get creative and carry an eight-man bullpen until outfielder Franklin Gutierrez is ready to return, thus optioning a position player like Trayce Thompson back to Triple-A. Otherwise, the weakest link on the 25-man roster right now could conceivably be reliever Chris Hatcher, who doesn’t have any options remaining on his contract.

In the end, the news of injured players returning to sound health is a good problem to have, especially for the Dodgers, who struggled mightily with injuries over the entirety of 2016. Nevertheless, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and his henchmen have a special knack for getting creative in the art of roster manipulation, and shouldn’t have a problem clearing one spot. Still, it will be very interesting to fans to see exactly how it’s done.

(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)
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