Published January 30, 2017
WASHINGTON -- Late in the summer of 2015, Rich Hill made two starts for the Long Island Ducks in the independent Atlantic League.
"He was lights out. He was unbelievable," Long Island manager Kevin Baez said. "I couldn't believe we had him, really. He was a pleasure to watch."
Earlier that year, the well-traveled left-hander pitched 25 games for Triple-A Syracuse -- the top farm team of the Washington Nationals.
Hill's journey takes him to Nationals Park, where he starts Game 2 of the National League Division Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers against host Washington on Saturday afternoon.
"I just didn't see it working out here in Washington," Hill said Friday, adding that he was impressed with the Nationals organization.
The year for Hill included a trade from the Oakland Athletics, dealing with a blister that put him on the disabled list and being pulled by manager Dave Roberts while he was tossing a no-hitter. Now he tries to give his team a 2-0 lead in the NLDS after a 4-3 victory Friday in which Clayton Kershaw pitched only five innings but earned the victory.
"I think looking back on it and really is just -- and I've said this over and over again, is staying in the moment," Hill said of his season. "Taking each day as it is and being as productive as I can be within the time I have for every day that I get to play this game. And really, that's the best way that I can sum it up."
Hill did not pitch against Washington this year. He last faced the Nationals in 2012 with the Boston Red Sox.
The last time the Massachusetts native pitched at Nationals Park was is in 2009 with the Baltimore Orioles.
Saturday, he will have to deal with speedy leadoff hitter Trea Turner.
"Obviously he's an explosive runner and he can do damage on the basepaths," Hill said. "This is obviously a very good lineup. Keeping Turner off the basepaths would be a positive."
Hill is 1-1 with a 4.34 ERA in four games (three starts) against the Nationals with 17 strikeouts and six walks in 18 2/3 innings.
"I think the thing that's impressed me most about Rich are two things," Roberts said Friday. "One thing is his intent; everything he does every day is for a purpose, and I didn't appreciate that not knowing him. And how intense he is on his pens, not only his start days, but his pens.
"The other thing I appreciate is admitting his growth as a player, as a person, in the sense that as a young player ... a lot of distractions got to him and things were out of his control. But I think that now when you watch Rich and talk to Rich, he lives in the moment. And I think that lends itself to just pitching with conviction on every single pitch."
His only postseason appearance came in Game 3 of the 2007 NLDS as a starting pitcher for the Chicago Cubs against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was tagged with the loss after giving up six hits and three runs in three innings while striking out three with two walks as the Cubs lost 5-1.
Hill, 36, becomes the oldest Dodgers pitcher to start in the playoffs since 40-year-old Greg Maddux took the mound against the New York Mets in the 2006 NLDS.
Hill will be opposed by Washington right-hander Tanner Roark, who has also had a nomadic existence as he prepares for his postseason start.
"He has good stuff," Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said.
Roark, a 25th-round pick by the Texas Rangers, was used out of the bullpen in 2014 in the NLDS by the Nationals after he won 15 games as a starter.
"It's definitely a dream come true," Roark said Friday. "You know, to get your first start in the postseason. But you've got to go out there and be in confident in everything that I do, and you know, be aggressive and keep doing what I did all during the season. Not change anything and just be myself."
Roark was 16-10 with a 2.83 ERA in 34 games (33 starts) this year. He was tagged with the loss against the Dodgers on June 21 as he gave up three runs and six hits in 7 1/3 innings in Los Angeles. The Dodgers won that game 3-2 during a stretch when the Nationals lost a season-high seven straight games during a West Coast swing.
Roark is 0-1 with a 3.48 ERA in three games (one start) in his career against the Dodgers.
The University of Illinois native was told Thursday he would start Game 2.
"You know, I was obviously very excited to get the Game 2 start at home," he said. "And to pitch in front of 42,000 people, it's always a good feeling."
Roark faces a Dodgers' lineup with several left-handed hitters, including prohibitive NL Rookie of the Year favorite Corey Seager, Chase Utley and Adrian Gonzalez.
"I mean, they have faced me before and I've faced them before and I've faced them in previous years," Roark said. "So go back and definitely watch a little video and read the scouting report, because obviously we've come a long way since June. So they have made adjustments and I've made adjustments myself."