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BASEBALL >> Pitcher seeks a snap in his curve, not in his arm Hill's goal: Make his starts and not end up on the DL
Nationals spring training

 The Nationals have been impressed with the spring in both the arm and the legs of pitcher Shawn Hill.
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Date published: 2/25/2008



VIERA, Fla.--

Shawn Hill folded his arms as he spoke last week, unintentionally revealing the topic of conversation. There it was on the top of his right forearm, near his elbow: a bright pink scar measuring about three inches long and a half-inch thick.

Chicks might dig scars, but pitchers sure don't, especially when they line their pitching arm and elbow. Hill has more than his fair share on his right side, and he's hoping his newest is his last.

After Hill's latest surgery, he desperately wants to put his lingering arm troubles behind him and pitch his first full season in the big leagues. Maybe then he can become the type of front-line pitcher the Washington Nationals saw during an injury-shortened 2007 campaign.

"My elbow has always been an issue since I signed, so they always protected it," Hill said. "I was always on a pitch count, never able to go a ton of innings. That's kind of been something bothering me."

There are several Nationals at spring training who, when speaking about their prospects for the upcoming season, must have the obligatory "if he can stay healthy" tacked on as an addendum. Hill is at the forefront of that group, and has been his entire career.

He was drafted by San Diego in 1999 but didn't sign with the Padres because of an arm injury. In 2001, it was elbow pain. A strained muscle in his upper back sidelined him the following year.

In September 2004, Hill had ligament replacement (Tommy John) surgery on his right elbow. He has suffered from sporadic elbow and forearm soreness ever since.

But when Hill, 26, hasn't been limited by pain, he has shown why the Nationals are currently contemplating having him take the mound for the first game at brand-new Nationals Park 35 days from now.

He went 4-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 16 starts last season and had the lowest ERA of any Washington starter. If the Nationals had such a thing as an "ace," he was it.

But, of course, it's difficult to be an ace if you can't get off the disabled list.

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