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Dodgers' Verdugo out for NLDS; Hill uncertain

LOS ANGELES -- Alex Verdugo, a major sparkplug through the first four months of the Los Angeles Dodgers' season, has been ruled out for the first round of the postseason, but is hopeful of rejoining the team for a potential appearance in the National League Championship Series.

Verdugo has spent the past two weeks dealing with a balky lower back, which locked up on him while he was swinging in a rehab game in Ogden, Utah, on Sept. 2. The oblique injury that initially sent him to the injured list in early August has fully healed, but his tender back is still keeping him from baseball activities. The 23-year-old outfielder has been restricted to mostly exercises that strengthen his core.

"It's actually extremely disappointing," said Verdugo, who made the trip from Glendale, Arizona, for his bobblehead night on Tuesday. "I love to play. It's my happy place. I've always been like that, even when I was a kid. No matter what happened outside the field, I could go out there, in between the lines, and nothing mattered. It was just go out there and play and have fun. That part, yeah, I miss it a lot. It's tough. I miss the daily grind of the guys, coming in with them every single day. It's hard. I love this game."

With Verdugo out, the Dodgers are likely to settle on a postseason outfield alignment of A.J. Pollock in left, Cody Bellinger in center and, depending on the opposing starting pitcher, either Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez or Chris Taylor in right.

The fourth spot in their rotation, however, remains hazy.

Rich Hill is currently recovering from the knee injury he sustained early in his start against the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday, his first outing since suffering an elbow injury nearly three months earlier.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said the MRI on Hill's left knee revealed something similar to the sprained MCL that he suffered during spring training. There is no structural damage, Roberts maintained, and Hill's contributions will hinge mostly on his tolerance for pain.

Hill, a 39-year-old left-hander in the final season of his contract, has spent the past few days manipulating his delivery in hopes of easing the pain on his knee. Regardless of his progress, Hill won't be able to contribute like a traditional starting pitcher at the onset of the postseason.

So after Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Hyun-Jin Ryu, a potential Game 4, Roberts said, will be "a little unconventional," with several pitchers -- Julio Urias, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin and Ross Stripling potentially among them -- contributing.

"I think the thing is getting the best eight or nine arms for the pen and going from there," Roberts said, referencing his postseason roster.

Verdugo, however, is the bigger loss. He maintained a .294/.342/.475 slash line through his first 377 plate appearances, but is still uncertain about when he will swing a bat again. Verdugo experienced some issues with his back earlier this season, but was consistently able to loosen it with extra work. This time, it's different.

"Really, there's nothing I can do," Verdugo said. "I gotta stay positive. I gotta keep a positive mind frame. My family, my parents, kind of help me get through it and just stay positive. When it comes to my health, and me being young, there's no reason to push back and try to further hurt myself, or set myself back worse. Stay positive, keep going, day by day, and don't get too down on yourself."