Hill and Patterson Start Slow Return To the Mound

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 23, 2008

VIERA, Fla., Feb. 22 -- Shawn Hill and John Patterson, the Washington Nationals' top starting pitchers, will take their next steps toward returning to a big league mound this weekend when they begin facing hitters for the first time after a week of bullpen sessions. Hill is scheduled to throw Saturday, Patterson on Sunday. Both are coming off arm injuries last season.

"I wouldn't say it's a big test, but it's a test," said Hill, who is recovering from surgeries to his left shoulder and right elbow. "Everything to this point has been fine. It's just another step towards being ready for Opening Day."

Patterson threw an eight-minute bullpen session Friday and spent much of it tinkering with his mechanics. "Everything feels good," he said. "I'm ready to face some hitters."

Barring injuries, either Patterson or Hill is expected to be on the mound for Opening Day, March 30, when the Nationals have their regular season debut at their new stadium.

New Talent in Outfield

General Manager Jim Bowden watched batting practice Friday and took particular pride in the swings of three talented outfielders -- Elijah Dukes, Wily Mo Pe¿a and Lastings Milledge -- who were not with the team a year ago.

"We had some weak spots in the lineup last year," Bowden said, "particularly center field and catcher, and that along with the pitcher [batting] in our league makes it very difficult to score runs unless you have Albert Pujols or Ryan Howard in the middle of your lineup. So we worked hard to try to add some speed and power and try to fix two positions that hadn't been producing much offense."

Who's on First?

Asked if there might be a scenario in which the Nationals could keep both of their first basemen, Dmitri Young and Nick Johnson, with Johnson starting and Young getting 200 to 300 at-bats as a reserve and pinch hitter, Manager Manny Acta seemed doubtful.

"They'll be a professional and do what they have to do, but I don't think [either would be] open to that kind of thing," Acta said. "It's pretty tough for both guys, because to me, they're both everyday guys. Still, we're not going to just give one guy away or get rid of a guy if we have to.

"The guy who doesn't play is just going to have to adjust to do whatever I ask him to do. It's not impossible that [we keep both]. That's among the possibilities, but starting in spring training if you go to [one of them] and tell them: 'What do you think if I get you 200 to 300 at-bats? You going to be okay?' I don't think they're going to be okay with it. And [that is] the right attitude, too. I want guys that want to play." . . .

Catcher Jes¿s Flores remains the only prominent player still delayed by visa issues, but Acta said Flores now has his visa and is expected to fly here from his native Venezuela on Saturday. . . .

Veteran lefty Odalis P¿rez, who signed with the Nationals earlier this week, is expected in camp Saturday.

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