For Some Relief All Around, Nats Could Try Starter Hill as a Closer

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A modest proposal: With the Washington Nationals expected to be without closer Chad Cordero for another month or so (plus no assurances he will return as the effective Cordero of 2005-07), and with would-be staff ace Shawn Hill unable to shake the throbbing pain in his elbow during and between starts -- why not try Hill out as the Nationals' closer for a while?

It makes historical sense: Atlanta's John Smoltz is the best example of a former starter who was reinvented as a closer because of elbow issues, since the physical toll of pitching one inning three or four times a week was less than that of throwing seven innings every fifth day. (Okay, we admit -- Hill is no Smoltz.)

It makes financial sense (if it works): Cordero is making $6.2 million this year, will make perhaps $8 million next year, and then reach free agency. Hill, on the other hand, is under club control for four more years.

And it makes baseball sense: The Nationals' farm system is loaded with potential starters, but not closers. And this way, Jon Rauch could return to the eighth-inning role, where he is one of the best in the game.

We ran the idea past Hill and Manager Manny Acta earlier this week. Hill said he was intrigued, but hesitant to abandon the job (starting pitcher) he's had his whole life. Acta, meantime, said it was nothing the team has discussed -- but he, too, said it was an intriguing thought.

"But [Hill] is a ground ball guy, not an overpowering strikeout guy," Acta said. "And also, we just don't know how he would respond to the everyday thing -- like pitching back-to-back games."

But the only way to find out is to try it.

No Deal Is Best Deal

The relative happiness (on a 1-to-10 scale) of the four teams involved in the Johan Santana trade talks this past winter:

· Mets (3): Got Santana, but he's getting knocked around and scouts are whispering he has lost 3-4 mph off his fastball.

· Twins (4): CF Carlos Gómez is exciting but inconsistent, and three pitching prospects from Mets are a combined 7-12 in the minors.

· Yankees (2): Held onto Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy (combined 0-7, 7.94 ERA), as Hank Steinbrenner reminds Brian Cashman approximately every 15 minutes.

· Red Sox (10): Held onto Jon Lester (no-hitter), Jacoby Ellsbury (.297, 19 SBs) and prospects, and have best record in baseball.

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