Hill falters again, Nats swept by Twins

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MINNEAPOLIS | These are the outings in which the frustration on Shawn Hill’s face is easiest to see.

The Washington Nationals right-hander wasn’t dealing with forearm pain strong enough to pull his delivery out of whack, nor was he making up for the aftereffects of not being able to work between starts. No, Thursday’s 9-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins was one of those games in which the answers were right in front of Hill, only they were in a locked case he couldn’t get to.

His pitches worked, his head told him where they needed to go, but somewhere in the process of putting it all together, the equation slipped away.

“That’s pretty much as bad as it gets,” said Hill, who lasted 3 2/3 innings. “It’s getting a little tiring at this point for me. This isn’t the way I would like to be throwing, but it is.”

After sweeping Seattle and starting the nine-game road trip 4-2, the Nationals ended it with three losses at the Metrodome in which they were outscored 22-6.

The 29-45 Nationals have tied the furthest they have been under .500 all season. And one-third of their losses are by five runs or more.

“I feel for the whole team,” first baseman Dmitri Young said. “We give it our all, and sometimes we come up short. We’ve just got to try to stay positive and not let the losses get to us.”

Hill (1-4), who had surgery to decompress the radial nerve in his right arm last season, has pitched with consistent pain in his forearm all season. The discomfort has let up to the point that he has been able to start throwing between starts, and he said he felt “good enough” Thursday.

But most of Hill’s starts in the last month have been unimpressive to painful, and this one was in the latter category. Hill gave up seven runs, six of them earned, walked three of the first five batters and left after a series of up-in-the-zone pitches led to four Twins runs.

It was Hill’s shortest appearance since July 9, 2004, and the fifth time in the last six starts he has failed to make it through the sixth inning.

Hill surrendered four hits on 0-2 pitches that he left over the plate rather than getting Twins hitters to chase something out of the strike zone.

“He was throwing the ball good, but 0-2, we tried to put those guys away. We were leaving stuff around the plate, and we were getting hurt,” catcher Wil Nieves said. “Everything was running back to the plate, and they were taking advantage of it.”

Hill didn’t get much help from a Nationals defense that has looked shaky for most of the nine-game road trip. Right fielder Elijah Dukes made a belated chase for Jason Kubel’s fly ball instead of playing it off the baggie in right field, and as the ball skittered away from him, Kubel reached third and Michael Cuddyer scored to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.

Washington committed its 13th error of the road swing in the third inning when Wily Mo Pena couldn’t pick up the ball after Cuddyer’s double.

“I’m not going to blame Wily Mo on any of those balls other than the ball that hit the wall that he bobbled,” Acta said. “We got outplayed by a better team.”

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