Hill a Beacon Of Hope Amid Nats' Rotation

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 9, 2007

Through his first two turns in the rotation, there's no question Shawn Hill has been the Washington Nationals' best starting pitcher. He has a 3.09 ERA. He has allowed fewer hits (11) than innings pitched (11 2/3 ). And he has no wins to show for it.

Hill was the Nationals' bright spot in a 3-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks yesterday, overcoming a two-run first inning to pitch 6 2/3 innings in which he allowed six hits and two walks, departing trailing by just 2-0.

"Outstanding," Manager Manny Acta said. "We're pretty confident that this kid is going to give us a chance every five days on a consistent basis."

After the first inning, in which Orlando Hudson delivered the key RBI double, Hill retired 18 of the next 22 hitters he faced. "Not bad," he said, frustrated over the inability to escape the first inning, in which the Nationals' ERA is 12.86.

The worse feeling, though, might lie with the hitters, who offered no support for Hill through seven innings, managing three hits off right-hander Livan Hernandez.

"I think you can ask anybody who's in the lineup," right fielder Austin Kearns said. "You get an outing that 'Hilly' gave us today, to not be able to do anything for him, there's not a worse feeling for a position player."

Nationals' starting pitchers are 0-6 with a 7.15 ERA.

Belliard Powers Up

Second baseman Ronnie Belliard, inserted into the starting lineup when shortstop Cristian Guzman went on the disabled list with a strained hamstring, went 2 for 4 and hit the ball hard in the two times he was retired. "I get lucky today," he said.

Belliard is hitting .400 (8 for 20) with two doubles and has at least one hit in each of his five starts. . . . Rookie Jesus Flores got his first major league start, spelling catcher Brian Schneider, but was lifted for pinch hitter Dmitri Young in the seventh. . . . Acta said that Young would remain the cleanup hitter, a position he assumed Saturday before he had yesterday off. . . . Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who hit 47 doubles last year, hit his first two of the season yesterday.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company