Hill Hoping To Get a Good Break at Coors

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 24, 2007

HOUSTON, Aug. 23 -- Shawn Hill has never been to Coors Field, so he doesn't know quite how his sinker will react to the thin Denver air when he starts Friday against the Colorado Rockies. In theory, the Washington Nationals right-hander would be in better position to succeed because of his penchant for inducing groundballs. But maybe that's not the case.

"It's like a Catch-22 in a way," Manager Manny Acta said, "because the ball just flies through the infield, too. If you ask me, I'd rather have a dominant guy who's going to strike out guys and not give up groundballs or fly balls. But we don't really have one of those."

Hill, then, will have to do. Pitching coach Randy St. Claire said the problem isn't as much with fastballs, but with breaking pitches.

"The bad ones, they just really hang there, and they get clobbered," St. Claire said.

Friday will be Hill's third start since missing three months with left shoulder and right elbow problems. He doesn't have a decision yet, but has allowed just two runs in 13 innings (1.38 ERA).

"It's been good for the most part," Hill said. "In terms of bouncing back, I bounced back a little bit better last time than I did the first time. The off-speed stuff is a little hit-and-miss. One day it's good, the next day it's not."

Hill's most obvious problem is his inability to swing a bat because of his left shoulder. To this point, he has only been able to bunt because he doesn't want to risk further injury by swinging away. He thinks that will change Friday.

"I won't be able to try to hit home runs or anything," he said. "But I'll be able to swing if I need to in a certain situation."

Adjustment Pays Off for Kearns

Right fielder Austin Kearns went 3 for 4 Thursday and is now 14 for his last 27, raising his average to .262, the highest it has been since May 26. Acta said Kearns has made an adjustment with his hands, moving them away from his body.

"Once he did that, it was about timing," Acta said. "It's paying off now."

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