In order to create space for right-hander Taylor Hill on their active roster, the Nationals designated left-handed hitter Greg Dobbs for assignment, cutting ties with a veteran they signed to a minor league deal in mid-May.
Dobbs went 6 for 28, serving mostly as a pinch hitter. The Nationals needed to make a move now in order to call up Hill, a reinforcement for a bullpen taxed after Tuesday night’s 16-inning marathon. Dobbs likely would have met the same fate upon Bryce Harper’s return from the disabled list in a week.
“We need length,” Manager Matt Williams said. “You gotta have length. And Taylor is pitching really well obviously, starting and will give us the length that we need because we don’t know how long we’re going to need length either. You never want to lose someone like Dobber, but that’s the only option we had. He’s a pro; he was a good teammate and a professional player. He knows how to work and how to prepare. Unfortunately, that’s the move we have to make.”
The Nationals will make another roster move Thursday when catcher Wilson Ramos is eligible to return from the disabled list. They could send Hill back to Class AAA Syracuse and carry a third catcher until Harper returns on or around July 1. Until Ramos’ return, the Nationals will have four reserve position players: Scott Hairston, Nate McLouth, Sandy Leon and Kevin Frandsen.
“It’s where we’re at,” Williams said. “Sometimes it’s what you have to do. I’m more concerned about the bullpen. They’ve been throwing a lot of innings. We’ve got to make sure that we can cover them if we can.”
The National chose Hill as a reward for his dominant season at Class AAA Syracuse, which is also dealing with several pitching injuries to Taylor Jordan and Ryan Mattheus. Hill, a 6-foot-3 control pitcher, is 9-2 with a 1.92 ERA in 93 2/3 innings at Syracuse, along with a superb 7.22 K/BB rate. He was expected to start Wednesday for Syracuse but now will be available in the Nationals’ tired bullpen.
Hill received the news at 2 a.m. when he was watching a movie and Syracuse Manager Billy Gardner Jr. called.
“I was obviously pumped and pleasantly surprised,” he said.
He then hopped on a 6:20 a.m. flight from Syracuse, transferred in Detroit and landed in Milwaukee around 10:20. Twenty minutes later, he was in the Nationals’ clubhouse, bags slung over his shoulder. In a year, Hill has gone from Class A Potomac to Class AA Harrisburg to Syracuse and then the majors.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” said Hill, who played college baseball at Vanderbilt. “I always wanted to play baseball. Until high school, I didn’t think there was ever a chance to even go play college ball. And after that, just the way I was able to play in high school and college, gave me an opportunity here.”
Hill credits his quick rise through the minor leagues with improved control, his defining pitching trait. He sharpened his command last year and, in 93 2/3 innings this season, has walked only nine batters. He throws in the low 90s, keeps hitters off balance and induces groundballs.
“I’m not going to go out and blow guys away,” he said. “That’s not who I am. I just want to go out and be able to throw strikes and give our team a chance to win. It sounds weird, but my goal is to see the least amount of time on the mound. I think the least amount of time out there the longer time we have more offense and translates to us having more runs.”
In an unrelated move, the Nationals released right-handed reliever Christian Garcia, who emerged as a potential star before he suffered through numerous injuries over the past two seasons.
As a call-up in September 2012, Garcia dominated so thoroughly with his mid-90s fastball and his preposterous change-up that he earned a spot on the Nationals’ playoff roster. The following spring training, Garcia suffered a forearm injury in his first bullpen session.
Injuries kept striking. Garcia, 28, pitched in just 11 minor league games last season and 10 this year. Earlier in his career, as a Yankees farmhand, Garcia twice underwent Tommy John surgery.
The Nationals reinstated Jeff Kobernus from the 60-day disabled list and sent him to Class AAA Syracuse. So they still have 40 players on their 40-man roster. They could open a spot by placing Matt Purke, who recently underwent Tommy John surgery, on the 60-day disabled list.