- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 28, 2006

In his first major league start since 2004, Washington Nationals right-hander Shawn Hill matched two-time All-Star Derek Lowe for seven innings. Late-inning mistakes, though, spoiled Hill’s return in a 3-1 loss yesterday to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The 25-year-old Hill, in his first big league start since having Tommy John surgery and just the fourth of his career, gave up one run on five hits and two walks in seven innings in front of 26,867 at RFK Stadium

“You couldn’t ask for more than that,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “That’s what we needed from him to give us. He kept us in the ballgame and gave us an opportunity to win.”

Hill gave the Nationals the opportunity, but little miscues at the plate and in the field snapped the Nationals’ season-high, four-game winning streak.

Damian Jackson’s failed sacrifice bunt helped Lowe escape a dangerous seventh inning relatively unscathed, as the right-hander won back-to-back games for the first time this season. Lowe allowed one run on five hits and one walk in seven innings.

First baseman Nick Johnson was the only Nationals hitter who had much success against Lowe, going 2-for-3.

“A sinker, cutter, everything. He threw every pitch,” Johnson said. “He moved in and out. He had that front door one [curveball]. He’s a good pitcher.”

Up until the seventh inning, Lowe (3-3) allowed just four Nationals baserunners. But when the Nationals (20-30) had a chance, with runners on first and second and no outs in that inning, Jackson popped up a sacrifice bunt, a mistake that hurt their momentum.

Once Jackson popped out to catcher Russell Martin, Lowe picked Ryan Zimmerman off second base, and Brian Schneider grounded out to Lowe to end the inning.

“Unfortunately, when we’re not feeling well, we can’t take days off and stay in the clubhouse, but I felt like that’s what I should have done today — stay in the clubhouse — I probably would have helped the team,” Jackson said. “I just let the team down all around. It lets the air out of your balloon. You have a golden opportunity to capitalize on.”

The Dodgers (28-21) had an equally hard time trying to score runs against Hill, whom the Nationals called up from Class AAA New Orleans after Friday’s win over the Dodgers. Hill matched Lowe’s three strikeouts while throwing 86 pitches to Lowe’s 98.

The performance was especially strong, considering the Dodgers were the second-best hitting team in the National League (.276) and Hill missed all of last season recovering from his 2004 surgery. Entering yesterday, he was 1-2 with a 16.00 ERA in his career.

Hill allowed his only run in the third inning, hitting Martin, who scored on Kenny Lofton’s sacrifice fly to left field to put Los Angeles up 1-0. Hill then retired 11 of the next 12 batters.

“I actually wasn’t that nervous going into today. A few years ago I got that out of my system,” Hill said. “I just threw strikes and [catcher] Schneider guided me through the whole day. I lost my control a little bit with my fastball, but for the most part I was throwing strikes with everything.”

Before his elbow injury, Hill was a top prospect with the Montreal Expos. He made his major league debut in 2004, making three starts but pitching just nine total innings. Hill pitched well at Class AA Harrisburg — 3-2 with a 2.64 ERA — before his promotion to New Orleans.

“When I came up last time, I sat around for a little while and got a little stiff and was overthrowing,” said Hill, who took Zach Day’s spot in the rotation. “This time, I had six days rest, and did what I normally do.”

The Nationals tied the game 1-1 in the seventh on consecutive singles by Johnson, Zimmerman, and Marlon Anderson. Anderson, who started in right field for injured outfielder Jose Guillen, lined a single to center that scored Johnson for his fifth RBI of the season.

With Hill out of the game, the Dodgers scored the eventual game-winning run in the eighth inning off Nationals reliever Mike Stanton, who took the loss and fell to 1-5. Rafael Furcal and Lofton singled off Stanton to open the eighth. Robinson yanked Stanton and brought in Gary Majewski, who gave up a run-scoring single by Nomar Garciaparra for a 2-1 lead.

The Dodgers added an insurance run in the ninth inning when Andre Ethier scored on shortstop Jackson’s throwing error with two outs.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

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