- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2008

These days, baseball is all a matter of perspective for the Washington Nationals. What’s most important is who’s inching toward turning things around and who’s not, which players can look at a loss and find encouragement and which ones can see them only as another stinging reminder of their current state.

Take, for example, the scene in the Nationals’ locker room after Saturday’s 6-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants. Shawn Hill took solace in having an full complement of effective pitches for one of the first times this season, the bullpen session that helped it happen and the possibility that the forearm pain that has hampered him all season might be lessening its grip.

About a teeter-totter’s length away, Felipe Lopez used precious few words to pinpoint exactly how the team’s offense felt after getting shut out for the third time in a week and the ninth time this season.

“Does it [stink]? Yeah,” Lopez said. “I’ve been hitting the ball for three weeks, so I don’t know what to say. I see everybody good. I can’t speak for everybody else, because I don’t know what they’re going through.”

But in the end, the truth remains: The Nationals have lost six of their last seven games. They have scored just three runs in those six losses. And Saturday’s loss wasn’t particularly unique.

Washington managed just four hits off Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez, had just two runners reach second base and prevented Hill from getting his first win of the season.

“It’s frustrating. I’m not going to lie,” Hill said. “Any pitcher that tells you the wins don’t bother you, the losses don’t bother you and all that kind of stuff is probably lying to you. Tonight, I’m still not happy with it. It wasn’t good enough. But if I can repeat that kind of outing, more often than not, we’re going to put enough runs on the board to have a chance to win the game.”

Hill has pitched through persistent forearm pain all season, which has prevented him from throwing bullpen sessions between most starts. After a 5-0 loss to Arizona last Sunday, he felt he had to work through the pain and sharpen his off-speed pitches, so he put in some bullpen work on Tuesday.

The result was one of the few starts this season in which Hill looked like the ace the Nationals believe he’s capable of being. He worked efficiently, threw all of his pitches and parlayed his sinking fastball into 7 1/3 innings in which he gave up just two runs. The Giants managed seven hits, but Hill walked only one batter (intentionally) while striking out two.

It still wasn’t enough to help Hill (0-3) notch his first win.

Washington put the leadoff runner on base in three of the first four innings but couldn’t score. Its last chance to take the lead and give Hill a chance to win came in the seventh, when Jesus Flores led off with a single. But Kory Casto flied to right, and Lopez, hitting .198 in the last 30 days, grounded into a double play to end the inning.

Hill’s most painful mistake came in the eighth, when he gave up two hits to start the inning. Luis Ayala entered with runners on first and second, allowing one run to score on Bengie Molina’s single and another on Rich Aurilia’s single.

Then came the final blow, a grand slam from John Bowker to make it 6-0.

By the end, Ayala threw 32 pitches - or about a third of Hill’s pitch count.

“He got away from his best pitch, which is that power sinker he has,” manager Manny Acta said. “He was beat on sliders, changeups and just had a very rough night.”

Right-hander Garrett Mock makes his major league debut Sunday, trying to become the next Nationals starter to exit with a win to show for his efforts.

For his part, Acta knows all he can do is believe it will happen.

“I just come every day to the ballpark,” he said, “telling myself that today’s going to be the day.”

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