Old Windup Is a Big Kick For New Chico

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 15, 2008

VIERA, Fla., March 14 -- Three years ago, at the behest of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Matt Chico eliminated a high leg kick from his windup. Last week, Washington Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire found some video of Chico from his high school days. He noticed the different motion, and told Chico, now a National, "I like this better."

The result: "I feel like myself," Chico said Friday after a fine five-inning, one-run performance in an 8-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

"He looked like he had a little bit more on his fastball," Manager Manny Acta said. "It gives him more deception."

Chico and St. Claire have been working hard on Chico's mechanics since last season, when he was a rookie. Chico has a tendency to come across his body, leaving his fastball tailing back over the plate. Chico and St. Claire have tried desperately to get him to stay closed in his delivery, shortening his stride as well.

But after a shaky first bullpen session with the high leg kick, Chico spoke afterward as if the adjustment could be revolutionary for him. "It was night and day," he said. "It was smoother, not so much like a robot."

Chico also said it took strain off his shoulder, in which he typically has tendinitis in the spring.

"It's gotten a little more comfortable for three days than I guess I've felt in the past three years," he said.

Chico allowed a solo homer to Cleveland's Andy Marte on a fastball, but gave up just two other hits, walked one and struck out four.

Hill Working His Way Back

Right-hander Shawn Hill threw hard -- 25 tosses from 90 and 120 feet -- Friday, and he will have a bullpen session Saturday as he works his way back from forearm soreness. He said his arm has responded well to a cortisone shot a week ago.

Asked if he was eager to get back on a mound, Hill said, "I'm dying to pitch in a game." . . .

The Nationals tried to pass first baseman Josh Whitesell through waivers -- thus creating a spot on the 40-man roster -- but Arizona claimed him. Whitesell, who will turn 26 next month, hit .284 with 21 homers and 74 RBI in 119 games for Class AA Harrisburg last year. The Nationals have Luis Jimenez and Larry Broadway as potential first basemen at Class AAA Columbus, and top prospect Chris Marrero could potentially begin the season at Class AA Harrisburg.

The Nationals will need to open more spaces on the 40-man roster if they add such nonroster invitees as pitchers Odalis P┬┐rez and Ray King and outfielder Alex Escobar. . . . First baseman Dmitri Young played in the field for the first time in a Grapefruit League game. He went 1 for 3 and drove in two runs.

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