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For Hill, Pain Isn't Problem, Location Is

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 20, 2008

MINNEAPOLIS, June 19 -- Earlier this month, when Shawn Hill's forearm pain subsided just enough to let him throw in the bullpen between starts, he thought he had solved a problem. Finally, he could fine-tune his mechanics and hone his breaking pitches. Finally, he could reclaim the technique that made him one of Washington's most promising pitchers.

But that hasn't happened. In consecutive starts, including Thursday's 9-3 loss to Minnesota at the Metrodome, opposing lineups have battered Hill's pitching, removing any evidence of the right-hander's improvement and planting questions about what he must do to regain effectiveness. Asked after the game if his arm felt okay, Hill said, "Good enough."

Against the Twins, Hill lasted 3 2/3 innings. His failure to locate pitches resulted in seven runs (six earned) and 10 hits, four of them coming with an 0-2 count. The struggles were reminiscent of his other start this road trip, when Seattle clubbed him for 12 hits over five innings. Since May 11, Hill's ERA has soared from 3.56 to 5.22.

"I have to somehow bounce back," Hill said. "It's getting a little tiring at this point for me."

Even in the first inning, catcher Wil Nieves noticed that Hill's pitches were moving considerably -- but in the worst way. "Everything was going right back to the plate," Nieves said.

Feasting on those over-the-plate pitches, Minnesota used an emphatic run of hits to end Hill's outing. After scoring in two of the first three innings, the barrage reached a peak in the fourth. Hill allowed two hits, then battled back with two outs. But Joe Mauer legged out an RBI infield single and cleanup hitter Justin Morneau sent a fastball whizzing by Hill's face for a single. To cue Hill's exit, Michael Cuddyer walloped a triple -- a base-clearer that gave the Twins a 7-2 lead.

By then, the Twins had laid the groundwork for a series sweep and their second straight blowout win.

"When you give up four hits on 0-2 counts," Manager Manny Acta said, "I mean, obviously, you're not trying to throw the ball right down the middle of the plate, but that's what he did, and that's how he got hurt."

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