Hill Feels Fine After 38-Pitch Side Session

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008

VIERA, Fla., March 19 -- The wind howled across the Washington Nationals' minor league complex during the major league club's one day off of the spring. But in Shawn Hill's road back to health, it doesn't matter the schedule for the rest of the team or the conditions on the field. If he feels healthy, he must pitch, so that's what he did Wednesday.

Hill, trying to come back from a mysterious soreness in his forearm, threw 38 pitches in a batting practice session against prospects Chris Marrero and Leonard Davis. Though pitching coach Randy St. Claire said, "He didn't have the command he did the other day," the session was considered a success because Hill felt fine afterward.

"It was just a little tight getting loose, but once I got loose it felt fine," Hill said. "I didn't have any sharp pain or anything like that. If that comes back, that'll be what bothers me. The achiness or tightness doesn't bother me. So far, so good."

After being shut down for more than a week and receiving a cortisone shot, Hill has thrown two bullpen sessions and the live batting practice. His command suffered in the breeze in part because he had a hard time gripping the ball, which hurt his off-speed pitches. But his go-to pitch, a sinker, worked well. Of the 14 balls Marrero and Davis hit fair, 11 were grounders.

St. Claire is cautious about laying out a next step for Hill until he sees how he feels Thursday. Hill said having hitters in the box didn't matter much.

"A game situation is going to be a little different," he said. "This is more just an exercise in trying to maybe build up more."

Lo Duca Catches Five Innings

Catcher Paul Lo Duca caught right-hander Jason Bergmann for five innings in a minor league game, and he continued to report good progress in his recovery from a torn meniscus in his left knee. Lo Duca is scheduled to serve as the designated hitter Thursday against the Houston Astros, and then catch Friday against his old team, the New York Mets.

Lo Duca expects to be in the Opening Night lineup.

Lo Duca said Bergmann, in line to start the fourth game of the season, looked sharp in his five-inning outing. If the Nationals keep the same schedule, Bergmann would pitch the March 29 exhibition game at Nationals Park against the Baltimore Orioles.

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