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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 page 2
Nationals spring training

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

By RICH CAMPBELL

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"You can say the same things for a lot of guys in the game that have the stuff but just haven't been able to stay healthy: You're not an ace if you pitch a month and a half or two months," manager Manny Acta said.

Hill's promising 2007 was derailed by a set of maladies that could ensnare only the most injury-prone player.

He hurt his left shoulder while diving on the base-paths on April 20. He aggravated the injury 11 days later while covering first base on a ground ball.

The left shoulder injury--which turned out to be a partially torn labrum--caused him to alter his throwing mechanics. That, in turn, put undue stress on his right elbow and forearm. Within two weeks, he had started an 11-week stint on the disabled list.

Hill never fully recovered and had two offseason surgeries. One repaired the torn labrum and the other decompressed a nerve in his pitching forearm.

Now, he and the Nationals have their collective fingers crossed. So far, his performance in spring training has been encouraging.

"It feels nice and stable going through the delivery," Hill said. "I don't feel like I'm peeling off, which I was last year. There's nothing noticeable that I'm worried about right now."

Hill looked particularly good in pitching his first live batting practice of the spring on Saturday.

"One of our pitching coaches was telling our hitters, 'Don't worry about it guys. He's still about a month and a half away from getting sharp,'" Acta said proudly.

When Hill is healthy and at his best, his sinking fastball draws comparisons to those thrown by the game's best, such as Arizona's Brandon Webb.

He has toyed with the idea of developing a slider or cut fastball to complement his sinker, but nothing is in the works yet. Instead, Hill is focused on consistently locating his curve and change-up.

"The off-speed stuff, it's there and it's not there," Hill said after throwing his first live batting practice of the spring on Saturday. "If we were talking on March 25 and it's the same conversation, I wouldn't be happy at all. Being that it's still February, I'm happy with where it's at."


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