- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2007

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Shawn Hill returned to the mound yesterday for the first time in seven weeks.

Even if it was only 25 pitches — and they were all fastballs — it was an important step in Hill’s return from left shoulder and right elbow injuries.

“It felt good — good movement, reasonable location and more importantly comfort,” Hill said.

Hill’s last time on a mound was in St. Louis in late May when a 30-pitch session of fastballs and change-ups caused more discomfort in his elbow. His last start was May 11 against Florida.

He was 3-3 with a 2.70 ERA in eight starts before the injuries. Hill did not allow more than three earned runs in any of his outings.

“First of all we need to see how he is going to come back, but I think his impact will be nothing but positive,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “When he left he was our main guy. He was our No. 1 guy. I don’t like to use the word ace, but he was our No. 1 guy basically. I hope he comes back the same way, and he gives us that hope that we had every five days we had a very, very good chance of winning.”

Acta said at the beginning of this series he hoped to have Hill back next month. Hill said he hopes to return later this month or the first week of August at the latest. The next step will be another session on the mound either tomorrow or Wednesday.

Cut it out

Matt Chico’s struggles Saturday night were in part because of a problem with his mechanics that caused his fastball to cut back across the plate instead of sinking and tailing away from right-handed batters.

He allowed five runs — all on three home runs — on seven hits and three walks in six innings after yielding only one total run in his previous three starts.

“He runs into that once in a while,” Acta said. “His line with his front foot is offline sometimes, and he throws across his body or turns his hand, and maybe he tries to correct it on the fly during the game, but it is not that easy.”

Chico said it is a problem he has had at different times for the past six to eight years. The 24-year old lefty is 4-6 with a 4.57 ERA and is the only member of the rotation not to miss a start.

“Mainly when I’m playing catch I focus on getting out in front instead of getting [my arm] across my body,” Chico said. “It’s not something that is easy to fix, but at the same time it is if that makes sense. It is really just focusing on mechanics when I am throwing.”

Quite the class

Ryan Zimmerman has been at the forefront of the 2005 draft class, but just how special that group could be is starting to come into focus this summer.

Zimmerman was the second member of the group to reach the majors and finished second in the National League rookie of the year voting last season. This year’s award could go to Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, who was one pick after Zimmerman at No. 5 overall. Two other top-10 picks — Kansas City’s Alex Gordon and Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki — became everyday players less than two years after being drafted.

The depth of elite talent from the 2005 draft was on display last week at the Futures Game. Arizona’s Justin Upton, Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce and St. Louis’ Colby Rasmus all were part of the U.S. outfield, and Detroit’s Cameron Maybin was selected to play but was injured.

Baseball America’s midseason top prospect list has 2005 alums Upton, Bruce and Maybin as the top three players in the minor leagues.

“I know there are a few of them that are up, but I really only realize it when we play against one of them,” Zimmerman said. “It is nice to see that going to college maybe isn’t such a bad thing, but if you’re a high school guy like Upton or Bruce or Maybin and they’re putting ridiculous amounts of money in front of you it’s hard to pass up. It is always nice to see the guys who went around you [in the draft] do well.”

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