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10/13/07 The 2008 Nationals Starting Rotation: Shawn Hill?

     A native of Mississauga, Ontario, Shawn Hill was drafted by the Montreal Expos with the 165th overall pick of the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft. (A year after he had gone 1,012th overall to San Diego and decided not to sign with the Padres).

     Hill worked his way from Rookie ball to Double-AA over the next four years, and in June of 2004 the Expos called the right-hander up for his first MLB start. On June 29th in Philadelphia, PA, Hill lasted only two innings against the Phillies, allowing 7 hits, 8 runs, and 4 walks, with 4 K's in a game the Expos eventually lost 17-7.

     The right-handed-sinker-baller wouldn't have to wait long for his first Major League win, which came in his next start against the Toronto Blue Jays, but he would have to travel far...to Estadio Hiram Bithorn in San Juan, Puerto Rico...and wait through a rain delay (which never would've happened in Canada)...and a late-game rally by the Toronto Blue Jays (off rookie closer Chad Cordero), before claiming his first victory, 6-4 in the last game between the historic Canadian baseball rivals. (In Puerto Rico?)...

     Hill was (1-2) with 16 runs allowed on 17 hits and 7 walks in 9 innings in his first Major League stint in 2004, but Hill underwent Tommy John surgery after the 2004 season, which wiped out 2005, as the Expos traveled to Washington to become the Nationals.

       In 2006 Hill started the season at the Nationals Double-AA affiliate in Harrisburg, where he posted a (3-3) record in 10 starts during which he allowed 15 runs in 50.1 innings. The next stop was Triple-AAA New Orleans, where Hill made just one start before earning the call-up to DC...

     Hill made his Nationals debut against the Dodgers on May 27, 2006 and threw 7.0 innings of 5-hit, 1-run ball in a 3-1 loss to the Dodgers, who scored two runs off the bullpen to rob Hill of the victory. Hill shut out the Phillies over 7 innings for his first win as a National on June 11th, and went (1-3) in 6 starts with a 4.66 ERA in 36.2 innings of work before experiencing elbow pain in early July and shutting it down for the season.

     Shawn Hill was healthy as he started the first Spring Training game of 2007 for Washington, and Hill earned a spot in the starting rotation by posting a 1.37 ERA in 6 Spring starts in which he held the opposition to just 4 ER's in 26.1 innings on the mound, and that success carried through his first 8 starts, with Hill posting a (3-3) record and 2.70 ERA in April and May, before once again experiencing elbow pain, forcing Hill to pull himself out of a May 11th start against Florida in which he had pitched 5.0 no-hit innings.

     The elbow injury, along with a left shoulder injury Hill suffered in the field, kept the righty out of the lineup until August 14th, when he returned against Philadelphia and threw 6.0 innings of 1-hit shutout ball against the Phillies. Hill was (1-2) with 5 no-decisions over his last 8 starts of 2007, to finish the season (4-5) with a 3.42 ERA, but the elbow and shoulder injuries popped up again and Hill once again headed for surgery as the Nationals 2007 season ended.

     Surgery to "decompress the radial nerve" in his right forearm, and clean up scar tissue in the right elbow in September, followed by surgery on the left shoulder in October, and still the Nationals are optimistic about Shawn Hill being ready for Spring Training in 2008.

     Hill has made only 25 Major League starts since being drafted in 2000, with a (6-10) record in 143.0 innings on the mound over three MLB seasons during which he's accumulated a 4.53 ERA with 91 K's and 44 walks, but Hill's 16 starts in 2007 were the most for the 26-year-old since he made 20 starts in Double-AA Harrisburg and Montreal in 2004, after which he also underwent surgery on his right elbow.

    How much can the Nationals expect out of a 27-year-old, reconstructed, sinker-balling right-hander in 2008? Can the native of Missassauga, Ontario finally put together a full, injury-free campaign? Effective when healthy is only okay for so long...