- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — By pitching in the eighth inning, Washington Nationals right-hander Shawn Hill was already in a position none of his fellow starters had been.

For a struggling rotation, that was a victory in itself.

Hill turned in the Nationals’ most dominating starting performance this season, holding Philadelphia scoreless until the eighth in a 4-2 victory yesterday before 26,572 at Citizens Bank Park.

“I hope it picked up the team on a whole,” Hill said. “Hopefully, we can build on this and the starters do start to go a little deeper.”

Hill’s patented sinker was nearly unhittable, inducing 15 groundball outs and placing him six outs from his first shutout. A leadoff home run to Aaron Rowand on a misplaced sinker in the eighth inning — “It was supposed to be a fastball away,” Hill said — was his only mistake.

Hill (2-2, 2.76 ERA) pitched eight innings and to one batter in the ninth (he eventually scored), striking out three while limiting the Phillies to four hits as the Nationals avoided a sweep.

Nationals closer Chad Cordero earned his second save of the season, ending the Nationals’ four-game losing streak. But this afternoon belonged to Hill.

When he is healthy, few have questioned Hill’s ability to pitch at the major league level. The Ontario native missed the 2005 season because of Tommy John surgery but showed potential last season, finishing 1-3 with a 4.66 ERA in six starts.

Hill called yesterday’s performance his finest as a major leaguer.

“A couple of the batters that actually reached first base was talking about how nasty he was and not wanting to face him,” Nationals first baseman Dmitri Young said.

Hill has been the Nationals’ best pitcher during the first month of the season, allowing two earned runs in each of his five starts. He solidified his case to be staff ace yesterday, posting his fourth straight quality start on 99 pitches, with 59 going for strikes.

“All we need from him is to stay healthy, and he’s going to have a very productive career up here,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said.

The Nationals took the lead in the fourth inning, when Young hit a solo homer off Philadelphia left-hander Cole Hamels.

“It got up in the air, and it was gone,” said Young, who finished 1-for-4.

The Nationals made it 4-0 in the sixth when Ronnie Belliard and Ryan Zimmerman led off with back-to-back singles. Hamels intentionally walked Austin Kearns to load the bases, and Ryan Church followed with a two-RBI single to left. Brian Schneider later walked to score Kearns.

“That’s what got us to a two-run lead or whatever at the end of the game,” Church said of his hit. “It just felt good to come through there because they put Kearnsie on to get to me thinking that they could strike me out or get me to hit into a double-play ball. It just feels good to come through in that situation.”

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