Posted on November 25, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
If Rich Hill expects to pitch in 2020 and extend his career into his 40s, he’ll have to find a team willing to take him for only half a season. Hill, who is currently a free agent, underwent elbow surgery last month that is expected to keep him sidelined until at least June, possibly longer. However, the southpaw is expected to make a full recovery and plans on pitching next season if he can find a home.
Hill was limited to just 13 starts this past season because of a strained flexor tendon that kept him on the Injured List from the middle of June to the second weekend in September. The lefty was able to make three starts in September but only totaled 5.2 innings over those starts. He then threw 2.2 innings in his only postseason start. However, Hill says it’s actually a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow that forced him to undergo surgery last month.
While most pitchers with a UCL tear need Tommy John surgery, Hill underwent an alternative that’s not available to every pitcher. The surgery is less invasive than Tommy John surgery and often referred to as a “primary repair.” It comes with roughly half the recovery time of Tommy John, although only a few major league players have had the procedure. The plan for Hill moving forward is to start throwing in January and be ready to pitch in the majors by June.
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“This wasn’t an option six years ago,” Hill said of the surgery. “This guarantees I’ll be back. Given where I’m at in my career, how much longer I’d like to play, the percentage of success is upward of 95 percent.”
Of course, Hill is no stranger to injuries, making 15 trips to the IL during his big league career. He’s often battled issues with blisters, as well as knee problems and time lost to Tommy John surgery. But when healthy, Hill has always been an effective pitcher, owning a 3.82 career ERA. In the 13 starts that he made with the Dodgers in 2019, he was 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA. Even coming off a surgery that’s still rare for big leaguers, he should receive plenty of interest from teams.
Hill says that around 10 teams expressed some level of interest in him during the GM Meetings earlier this month. The Dodgers are reportedly one of those teams. While there is some uncertainty regarding the surgery, some team will surely sign Hill with the hope that he can give their rotation a midseason boost as if he were acquired in a trade. Where he’ll end up and when he’ll sign remain unclear. However, it looks like a safe bet that Hill will be pitching somewhere in the majors next summer. It also looks like at least some pitchers with UCL tears could have another alternative to Tommy John.
“I’m 100 percent confident I’ll be back,” says Hill. “I’m looking forward to 2020. If I didn’t think I could come back and help win a championship, I wouldn’t have had the surgery. I can already tell a difference in the way I feel and haven’t picked up a ball, which will happen after the 1st of the year. I think this surgery could be at the forefront of something important moving forward with elbow injuries.”