LOS ANGELES — Standing in the batter’s box in the fourth inning, Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill had about four-tenths of a second to decide whether a baseball was headed straight for his head, or if he had a chance to lay down a bunt. He did not make the correct choice in time.
One moment, Hill stood holding his bat parallel to the ground. The next moment he was crumbled in a heap, with coaches and trainers and even a security guard on the field rushing to monitor the scene.
The 92-mph fastball from San Diego Padres pitcher Clayton Richard struck Hill in the neck. If Hill hadn’t flinched out of the way just before impact, a game of baseball would be a distant thought at Dodger Stadium on Friday night.
Surprisingly, the moment passed quickly. No one had time to warm up in the Dodgers’ bullpen before Hill was on his feet, jogging to first base. He threw two more innings against the Padres, looking no worse for the wear.
Manuel Margot’s second home run of the night tied the score in the seventh inning, then Jose Pirela’s solo shot in the eighth was the difference in the Padres’ 4-3 victory. Brad Hand retired Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger in order in the ninth to close it out.
The gruesome visual of Hill’s injury, combined with his long history of injuries, figured to knock him out of the game – maybe longer. If not his best game, it could be argued that Hill’s 17th start of the season was at least his most impressive.
Other than a solo home run by Margot and an RBI single by Cory Spangenberg, both in the third inning, Hill did not allow a run over six innings. The left-hander pitched around five hits and three walks, striking out nine batters – five with his trademark sweeping, overhand curveball. Hill lowered his earned-run average to 3.44.
Give Yasiel Puig partial credit. The Dodgers’ right fielder made a cartoonish throw to home plate – 96.2 mph on the fly from 270 feet away, according to MLB’s Statcast technology – in time to retire Hunter Renfroe for the final out of the third inning. Renfroe acrobatically avoided Austin Barnes’ initial tag attempt, but the Padres did not challenge the call by home plate umpire Carlos Torres.
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The Dodgers maintained a 3-2 lead when Hill was removed after six innings, having thrown 101 pitches.
Justin Turner doubled and scored on a Cody Bellinger single in the first…