Rich Hill Should Be the 2019 Opening Day Starter

It may be hard to believe no matter how much it’s repeated, but still: for the first time since 2010, Clayton Kershaw will not be the Opening Day starter for the Dodgers. Many, myself included, advocated for Walker Buehler to get it instead as a passing of the torch for his tenure as the team’s next ace. But Dave Roberts has made it clear he won’t be getting the call either.

We all know the rotation is awash in options to kick the season off. The resurgent Julio Urias, the hungry Ross Stripling, the sometimes overlooked but crucial Hyun-Jin Ryu, a Kenta Maeda eager to prove he’s a starter and not a reliever…the list goes on.

In my mind, there’s only one clear option: Rich Hill. Dick Mountain, our sidearm, leg-kicking, bearded god with the greatest jersey in franchise history.

Dodgers Twitter agrees.

On a practical level, it makes sense given his consistently excellent pitching since 2016, which would be even better were it not for those damn blisters.

But that’s not the only reason Hill should get the ball on Opening Day. There are a bevy of sentimental factors at play. Most prominent is the fact that this is the last year of his contract, and he just turned 39. Lest he find a second wind akin to the mighty Bartolo Colon, it’s likely he’ll retire at season’s end. It would also be another affirming moment for a man who has risen above countless lows, from pissing in a bucket while playing for the Long Island Ducks to losing an infant son.

He should also get it because he represents the integrity, the tenacity, and the brilliance in the face of adversity the team needs to win it all. He runs the bases like Forrest Gump, and splays himself at home plate like a fallen soldier, even when he doesn’t need to. He upheld the team’s tradition of standing up to bigotry when he ingeniously stepped off the mound to let fans boo Yuli Gurriel to their heart’s content.

He chucked Gatorade in the bullpen when yanked from that same game, frustrated he had put the bullpen in a tough situation (that they luckily got out of). He cares for winning, and winning right, in a way few players exhibit.

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Even amidst his consistently brilliant play, Hill has been at the center of some of the team’s toughest moments these past three years. He was pulled from a perfect game in 2016, and had another one spoiled in 2017 by a pathetic offensive showing. Some believe he was pulled too early in game two of the 2017 World Series. And then there’s the coup de grace: game four of the 2018 World Series. You know the script by now, and don’t need to read it again.

And that’s precisely why he should get it. It’s an immediate sequel to that infamous breakdown in communication, a chance to start fresh. Hill has had so many great moments yanked away from him unfairly. So why not give him this one?

All told, Dick Mountain IS Dodger Baseball of the 2010s, in all of its glory, truculence, adversity, and limitless possibility. 2019 is an especially crucial year, with 30 years of championship futility and a trying offseason to purge. After last year’s mopey, inconsistent team barely eked out a pennant, this year needs to see our boys play with fire and an understanding that a trophy won’t be handed to them.

No one knows how to do that like Richard Joseph Hill. The man has transcended challenges the likes most of us will never know. Let him set the tone for 2019.

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  1. As usual I disagree with you, I would have Ryu start as he went through almost 2 years of surgery and rehab and he has been better this spring and Greinke is starting. Or Maeda as he his the ultimate Team guy in going to the Bullpen the last two playoff runs.

    • I have no qualms with Ryu if it ends up that way. I defended Roberts using him in game one of the 2018 NLDS even before it worked out. I adore Maeda for his bullpen heroics the past two postseasons but he just doesn’t go deep as a starter and tends to wear down in that capacity as the season goes on, thus leading to his bullpen use.

    • I get we don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things but I don’t see how this is that big of a disagreement. Truth be told all the starters are excellent, and I’m fine with anyone getting it really as I mentioned below. But Hill has the emotional components, as well as the talent, to merit the start.

    • Also, you come across as pedantic and condescending in your comment here. First, it’s not like I’m alone in thinking this, as the poll makes clear a majority of people think Hill should get the nod. Second, it’s obviously optimal for Kershaw or Buehler to be the starter in the first place, but since they’re not available the remaining options are fairly equal and have their own individual cases. You could pick one at random and it’d be a good selection. Hill makes sense, and so does Ryu, and so does Maeda. I feel there’s a narrative element that makes HIll’s case the strongest, but it’s arguably negligible in the bigger picture. And that’s a good thing.

      I get some of our other disagreements with me, like the one on my Kluber article of the merits of making a big signing or trade, but my case for Hill isn’t hideously off the mark. It’s not like I’m advocating for Brock Stewart or Stetson Allie or something ridiculous. I’m talking about a proven team leader who has flirted with a perfect game TWICE and pitched brilliantly in the postseason, including an ERA below 2.30 in the NLCS and WS in both 2017 and 2018. I love Maeda for the bullpen heroics too but how is Hill not a “team guy” as well with all the heart he showed the past two Octobers?

  2. As a long time Dodger fan I agree with the Maxster….Hills story IS great and I’m glad he was traded here……but it should be Ryu. The only MLB team he has ever known is the DODGERS! He has been with the Dodgers since 2013 and while he has not always been healthy every year, he has pitched very well when healthy. He has earned it…….while over looked by many because of Kershaw’s dominance, he has been one of our best starters, hands down. On any other team that was not so steeped in great pitching he would have been a solid number 2 starter for several years now.

  3. Thanks for writing this! I love your synopsis, and have been in total agreement, all through this debate. A Season 2019 Starter for Rich Hill would truly be an ode to his amazing career path. He has played on more teams than anybody in MLB, I believe. Let this be the symbolic send off, and thank you for a brilliant, trying career, and amazing man. And you make a great point about the 2018 WS Game 4 “misunderstanding.” This fresh start would be truly be a bookend, so to speak, to what he was deprived of at the end of last Season, and has been deprived of too many times. Ryu, and frankly, any one of our star Pitchers would be awesome on Day 1, but I say all hail to Rich HIll #DickMountain on this one.

    • Thanks! I feel that’s why he should get the ball. I’m fine with ANYONE getting it, honestly, but especially after the reverence for Utley’s veteran leadership last season I think it’d be good to start the same with Hill this year.

  4. Ok guys……looks like it is down to Ryu or Hill….you know which side of the fence I’m on in this debate…..we shall see………this excerpt (In quotations) from Bill Plunkett this morning…..”Ryu is “lined up now to potentially” make that start next week, Roberts said, indicating Ryu will not start again before the regular season begins. The Dodgers are still “digging into matchups” with Rich Hill and Ryu against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Roberts said.”

  5. You are right, I was having a bad day…Your article was well written and as you said any of the guys are great candidates for the starting job for different reasons. The one common reason is their competitiveness which Hill, Ryu and Maeda have shown.

    Hill’s journey is an amazing one. I have always been a big Ryu fan and coming back from those injuries was remarkable. I believe Ryu has not received the credit he has deserved when he has been healthy.