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If the decision to activate right-hander Shawn Hill from the 15-day disabled list is based on his performance in last night's rehabilitation start at Single-A Potomac, then Hill could easily find himself pitching for the Washington Nationals as soon as Sunday afternoon.
Hill made a convincing case to start Sunday against the Atlanta Braves with a strong outing last night against Myrtle Beach, an Atlanta affiliate. He pitched five scoreless innings and gave up four hits, a walk and struck out four.
Hill stopped short of saying that he has earned the opportunity to start on Sunday, but he believes he has overcome the pain in his pitching forearm and would be effective in the big leagues.
"I think that if I go out there and throw the way I should be able to throw, I don't think the arm is going to hold me back at this point," Hill said. "It's going to be more of a performance issue."
Nationals manager Manny Acta sat four rows behind home plate next to Washington bench coach Pat Corrales, head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz and bullpen coach Rick Aponte. They all watched Hill retire the first 10 batters he faced. Acta declined comment.
Because Myrtle Beach did not have any left-handed hitters in their lineup, Hill did not throw his change up at all. But his sinking fastball regularly hit 90-91 mph and was down in the strike zone. The Pelicans didn't hit the ball past the pitcher's mound until the third inning, and they didn't get it out of the infield until the fifth. He threw 69 pitches, 44 for strikes.
Hill was also encouraged because he felt no pain in his forearm. He had nerve decompression surgery on Sept. 26, but he was shut down during spring training because of sharp pain in his forearm.
"Warming up, I got a little bit of the pulling at it, but once I geared up and just decided, 'OK, I'm throwing full speed,' there's not really a lot of pain," Hill said. "It's just a little tightness, that, as I go on a little bit, I've just got to make sure I'm getting it loose. When I'm gearing up full speed, it's not bothering me."
Hill was Washington's best pitcher when healthy last season, posting a 4-5 record and 3.42 ERA in 16 starts. He was originally scheduled to be Washington's Opening Day starter, but his spring training setback thwarted those plans.
If Washington decides to activate Hill for Sunday's game, they would likely send down left-hander John Lannan or left-hander Matt Chico. Acta said Monday that the Nationals will not carry six starting pitchers.
Chico (0-1, 5.56 ERA) has started twice for Washington this season, and Lannan has started once (0-1, 2.70) after beginning the season in Triple-A.
"It's not the Braves that I was facing tonight, so it's a totally different ballgame that we're dealing with [on Sunday]," Hill said. "It's different, but I'd say that I feel like I'm ready to go. It's their call."
The Nationals placed first baseman Dmitri Young, who has a lower back sprain, on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 3. They recalled catcher Johnny Estrada from rehab assignment and he will be available to play in today's game.
Left fielder Wily Mo Pena went 0-for-1 with a strikeout and a walk in three innings in an extended spring training game yesterday. He had no opportunities in the field.
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