- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2005

After carving up minor league hitters and racing to the top of prospect lists since being drafted in 2001, Mike Hinckley finally hit a bit of adversity.

Hinckley, a 22-year old left-hander from Moore, Okla., went to spring training with Washington in February and harbored hopes of making the club’s starting rotation. He even made his debut during the team’s first Grapefruit League game, which was nationally televised.

But after six innings with the Nationals, Hinckley found out a couple of things. First, he needed to work on his changeup after big league hitters tagged him for nine runs and 14 hits. Second, he needed to rest because of a cranky left shoulder.

“It was an awesome experience just to be a part of that. I was blessed to go, and I got thrown in the fire the first game,” Hinckley said. “It’s not overwhelming. It’s still 60 feet, six inches. There may be big-name hitters up there, but that doesn’t mean the dimensions change. The plate still belongs to you. If you work your pitches up, down, in and out and change speeds, then it’s just pitching.”

Before joining Class A Potomac last week, Hinckley remained at the Nationals’ spring training facility in Viera, Fla. He was in the training room receiving treatment and stretching out his shoulder for 75 minutes every day. Then he spent between two and four-and-a-half hours working out on the field before going to the beach or back to the hotel where he was living.

Washington director of player development Adam Wogan said Hinckley’s shoulder is healthy and everything checked out with the organization’s medical staff. Hinckley made his season debut at Potomac on May9. He started again Saturday, but a lengthy rain delay ended his night in the second inning.

“You try to take into account everything that’s going on, and if you allow yourself to get frustrated, then it doesn’t help very much,” Hinckley said. “I’ve had points during this process when I’ve been frustrated, but it’s a learning experience in how to better stretch my body and how to better prepare day in and day out.”

Hinckley was a third-round pick out of high school, and he has dominated at every level. In 77 appearances before this year, he was 32-13 with a 2.80 ERA. He strikes out nearly three times as many batters as he walks. Last season he made 26 starts between Class A Brevard County and Class AA Harrisburg and gave up two earned runs or less in 19 of them.

He has a low-90s fastball; a curveball, which is his strikeout pitch; and a changeup in his arsenal. During the offseason, Hinckley was named Washington’s top prospect by Baseball America.

“When Michael is on, he is the total package,” Wogan said. “He’s poised, he has great command of his pitches and he has great stuff. He has a very good fastball and a very, very good breaking ball. He has spent a lot of time working on his changeup, and it’s going to be a very good pitch.”

What sets Hinckley apart from other pitchers with similar repertoires is his makeup. He’s a grounded kid despite all of the accolades and praise, and his preparation and work ethic really excite people in the organization.

“I know I want to work harder than any other guy out there,” Hinckley said. “To have the opportunity to come to the field every day and be like these kids running the bases [during a postgame promotion Sunday], they would love to do this every day, and I remember when I was a kid and I wanted the same. Now that I’m here, I know I need to work hard, and I’m willing to outwork everybody.”

Hinckley said he will make another start for Potomac tomorrow night. If everything goes well, a promotion to Harrisburg will come soon. He might want to swing by RFK Stadium on the way because he could be pitching there sooner rather than later.

Farm notes — Hinckley wasn’t the only top prospect to join Potomac this past week. Catcher Erik San Pedro, a third-round pick from Miami in last year’s draft, joined the Nationals. He was in Florida rehabbing after offseason thumb surgery.

Wogan said Clint Everts and Shawn Hill, both rehabbing after Tommy John surgery, are progressing as expected. Everts threw a simulated game Saturday and is on target to pitch in real games in June. Wogan said Hill was progressing even faster than Everts and had to be forced to slow down a little.

Bill Bray (back injury), a 2004 first-round pick, should be throwing in real games by the end of the month, Wogan said. … Brandon Watson was promoted from Harrisburg to Class AAA New Orleans. He will replace a player with similar skills, the recently traded Endy Chavez. … Harrisburg shortstop Josh Labandeira is back on the disabled list, this time with a strained oblique muscle. He got a late start this spring because of offseason shoulder surgery.

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