- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

Shawn Hill says his right arm feels well enough for him to pitch today. But the injured Washington Nationals hurler also knows the arm probably would flare up and be stiff tomorrow if he did.

Given all that, the Nationals will send Hill to Cleveland today to be examined by orthopedic surgeon Mark Schickendantz just to make sure they don’t need to change the course of action on his rehabilitation.

“They want to get a second opinion, make sure there’s absolutely nothing going on,” Hill said. “And then, depending on what they say, we’ll take it from there.”

Hill has been on the 15-day disabled list since May 12 with soreness in the same elbow that underwent ligament replacement surgery two years ago. He threw off a mound for the first time last weekend in St. Louis and said his elbow “flared up a little bit” afterward.

Club officials decided they wanted Hill, who had been examined previously by team doctor Ben Shaffer, to get another medical opinion before proceeding any further with him.

“We think Shawn is a part of our future, and given the year we’re having as a team, we want to make sure he’s OK in the future,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “We’re just being cautious.”

Though the Nationals and Hill were careful not to call this a setback, they acknowledge it will push back his return date. Hill said if no problems are discovered, he could be back in the major league rotation in less than two weeks.

“I could go out and pitch today the way my arm feels,” he said. “But the problem is tomorrow it’s going to flare up and be stiff, and I’m not going to be able to do a whole lot more. That’s why it’s kind of a guessing game as to how many days it takes to calm down completely.”

Ayala in town

Reliever Luis Ayala made his first appearance of the season at RFK Stadium yesterday afternoon and said he’s close to returning from his own major elbow surgery.

Ayala, who had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in March 2006, has been pitching at extended spring training for the last two months. He threw in front of pitching coach Randy St. Claire yesterday and appears close to beginning a rehab assignment, likely at Class A Potomac.

Ayala threw all of his pitches for St. Claire and reached 90 mph with his fastball.

“My arm feels brand new,” he said.

The last hurdle for Ayala to overcome involves him being able to pitch on consecutive days and then bounce back with no arm problems. That will be his primary objective on the rehab assignment, which could last up to 30 days.

Once he returns, Ayala will be watched closely. Manager Manny Acta said he won’t use him in his old setup role for a while, preferring to let him work his way back while pitching in less pressure-filled situations.

Wagner done?

The prognosis on reliever Ryan Wagner isn’t as good. The right-hander, out since May 7 with rotator cuff inflammation, hasn’t progressed much at all and will travel to Birmingham, Ala., over the weekend to be examined by surgeon James Andrews.

The club is holding out hope Wagner won’t need major surgery, but the Nationals appear to be prepared for bad news.

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it,” Wagner said. “But you know, you prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I can’t change what’s going on. Maybe he can.”

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