- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — Though starter Shawn Hill threw off a mound yesterday, used all of his pitches and said he felt no tightness in his right arm, manager Manny Acta has all but ruled him out to start the season in the Washington Nationals’ rotation.

“I don’t think Shawn is going to be ready to [go] with us up north,” he said. “That’s out of the question to me right now.”

Hill has not pitched in spring training after coming back from surgery to decompress the radial nerve in his right arm last October. He received a cortisone shot earlier this month and has been gradually working himself back into game shape.

He threw 35 pitches yesterday and said he was able to snap off his curveball more than he could all spring.

“Command, everything, he was real good,” pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. “If he feels real good tomorrow, I’m going to do a [batting practice] the next day.”

St. Claire has been the voice of optimism on Hill’s recovery all spring, and he still won’t rule out Hill being ready for the first week of the season.

“It’s going to be tough, but I’m not going to say he can’t,” St. Claire said.

Lo Duca pushed back

Catcher Paul Lo Duca originally had planned to make his spring training debut in a major league game yesterday, but the Nationals held him out. Acta said he’ll probably keep Lo Duca in accelerated minor league camp games until Thursday.

“We have more control of what’s going on over there and we want to stretch him out before we bring him over here,” Acta said. “We don’t want him to dictate how we’re going to do things. We don’t want him to get overly happy and have a setback. This is the way it was drawn by our trainer, it’s working good and we’re going to stick with it.”

O’Connor roughed up

Starter Mike O’Connor suffered his worst outing of the spring, giving up five runs (four earned) on seven hits in 42/3 innings. Four of those came in the fifth, when he surrendered singles to the first two hitters, gave up a walk and threw a bases-loaded wild pitch that scored a run.

It was a long ways from his last outing, when he threw five innings of no-hit ball against the Dodgers Wednesday. He struggled to stay ahead of hitters, throwing 31 balls among his 85 pitches and had his hands full with the speed at the top of the Mets’ order. New York stole five bases on O’Connor.

“You don’t want to let those guys on, but I got a chance to work on that,” he said. “You’re not going to have faster guys than [Mets shortstop] Jose Reyes. He’s looking to go on pretty much every pitch, especially on a guy like me.”

The left-hander effectively shelved his change-up early in the game, mostly because he was behind in the count. But St. Claire disagreed with that approach.

“He had the mind-set he couldn’t use his change-up. Well, did somebody take it from him?” St. Claire said. “There’s still plenty of opportunities to use it.”

Dukes held out

The Nationals had planned for left fielder Elijah Dukes to start yesterday after straining his hamstring running the bases last Friday, but he was scratched from the lineup for Ryan Langerhans.

“He’s still a little tender, so we’re going to give him a couple more days,” Acta said. “He did the running and stuff [before the game], but he kind of felt it a little bit.”

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