LOS ANGELES -- Rich Hill returned on Sunday, and like clockwork, so did his blister.
For the second time in as many starts this year, Hill left Sunday's 3-1 loss to the D-backs early because the middle finger of his pitching hand can't take it, and he appears to be headed back to the disabled list. He came off the DL for this start, played catch and threw a bullpen session, and everything was apparently fine. It only bothers him when he pitches in real games.
That's not so good for a pitcher, even worse when the club just signed him to a $48 million contract. Hill, and management, are frustrated with a crisis in its second season for which they have no solution.
"I don't have any answers," said Hill, who generates rare spin on his curveball by snapping it with skin-tearing friction. "There must be some kind of medical miracle, a glue or something, where it won't blister again."
Whatever solvent Hill used Sunday cracked and exposed raw, irritated skin. Hill said he noticed it when he was on deck to bat in the bottom of the second inning. He struck out to end the inning and the first batter he faced in a two-run third, Chris Iannetta, barreled an 0-2 fastball for a home run. Roberts removed Hill as he was in warmups for the fourth inning.
"To get where it was last year -- completely open, bleeding, raw skin -- that's not where we are now, but it could get to that point," Hill said. "I can't believe I'm standing here talking about a blister."
The blisters didn't bother Hill in Spring Training, but as soon as he hit regular-season intensity, the finger that is vital to his signature curveball became vulnerable.
The Dodgers knew the risk after Hill missed two months with similar blisters last year. Roberts wouldn't say that Hill will go on the disabled list -- but there may be no other choice, and this time he'd likely be there longer than 10 days, and would need a Minor League rehab to avoid another situation like this. Roberts did indicate that Alex Wood -- not 20-year-old Julio Urias -- is the likely replacement in the rotation.
"Every time he takes the mound, the uncertainty is tough on everybody -- the team and the 'pen -- and Rich understands that," said Roberts. "To give it ample time, we thought 10 days was enough, apparently it wasn't."
Hill said throwing causes the irritation, but throwing also is required to develop a callous to prevent the irritation.
"The throwing factor needs to coincide to callous the finger," he said.
In the short term, Hill's Sunday start will immediately stress the bullpen, as long reliever Ross Stripling followed Hill with 2 1/3 innings after Wood pitched 3 1/3 innings Saturday night in relief of Kenta Maeda.
"That's the most frustrating, knowing the bullpen yesterday was used heavily and again today used heavily," said Hill. "I know from pitching in a bullpen at this level, it's fatiguing on those guys. For me to not produce and do my job, but also to tax the bullpen. I take responsibility for that."
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989,
and for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.