Belliard returns to lineup

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PITTSBURGH | Ronnie Belliard was hitting .194 when he went on the disabled list May 19 with a strained left calf.

On rehab assignment with Class AA Harrisburg and Class A Potomac the past week, he went 0-for-15.

So naturally, the veteran infielder’s return to the Washington Nationals‘ lineup Tuesday night was just the jolt this beleaguered offense needed to get itself going again.

In fact, Belliard finished 3-for-4 with two home runs and three RBI against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 7-6 victory.

“I just hit the ball better, that’s all,” Belliard said. “I made good contact, and I got three hits out of it.”

Said manager Manny Acta before the game: “He’s very welcome right now in our lineup.”

Acta could say that with confidence because he knows Belliard is a proven veteran who should be able to provide the kind of quality at-bats that the Nationals have lacked for weeks. Despite his struggles to get going this season, Belliard is a career .273 hitter who batted .290 for Washington last season.

“I’m going to go out there and swing the bat like I can do,” he said.

Belliard won’t lack opportunities to improve his 2008 numbers, because Acta plans to give him plenty of at-bats, both at second and third base. Belliard has played only 47 of his 1,162 career games in the field at third, but Acta has seen him handle the hot corner with aplomb for years in the Dominican Republic.

“Believe me, he’s one of the best third basemen in the big leagues that is not playing third base,” the manager said. “I’ve seen him for seven, eight, maybe 10 years playing third base in winter ball. He’s good over there.”

Hill gets work in

Shawn Hill made his scheduled bullpen throwing session Tuesday afternoon, an otherwise ordinary event for most starting pitchers but a significant one for Hill. This marked only the second time this season the right-hander has been able to throw in between starts because of persistent forearm pain.

Because Hill’s arm felt strong enough following his last two outings, he was able to retake the mound two days later and work on some mechanical glitches.

“It’s nice, but at the same time, I don’t want to get ahead of myself and think I’m in the clear,” Hill said. “I’m still kind of taking this start-by-start at this point. But being able to at least get something out of it … that’s the biggest thing right now.”

Extra bases

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