- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Right-hander Shawn Hill made a favorable impression with the Nats last season, going 1-3 with a 4.66 ERA in six starts until elbow soreness shut his season down in late June.

Hill, who sat out all of the 2005 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, is one of many pitchers trying to win one of the four available jobs in the club’s starting rotation.

Hill sat down with Ken Wright to talk about the upcoming season.

Q: You had a pretty good season last year. Do you think it was your best season as a professional baseball player?

A: Being up in the big leagues and having a couple good games — in that sense, yeah. But, overall, in terms of overall success and how I felt through the whole year, definitely not.

I kind of went all right in the first month or so in [Class AA] Harrisburg, and when I got up to the big leagues I was feeling a little bit better. I got through the initial struggles of my first year back. As [the elbow] started to stiffen up on me after the third game in D.C., it was just a struggle at that point. …

Q: Since you endured elbow problems last year, did you undergo surgery this offseason?

A: No. The problem that I have [is] there is actually nothing we can do for it. There’s just some calcification around the ligament where they inserted it into the bone. When I went down to see Dr. [James] Andrews, he said that 20 percent of the guys that have Tommy John it happens to, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent it or to help it other than rest.

That’s why [the Nationals] sent me home in August to just take it easy, and the body will basically take care of the calcium deposits. So, there’s nothing I can do. No surgery, just rest to kind of build back up.

Q: It’s still early in this camp, but how does your arm feel now?

A: I’ve been throwing off a mound for six weeks already. I’m getting tenderness in terms of just stretching out, but not pain or significant discomfort. I’m 110 percent, ready to go. It’s just a matter of getting the strength going as we go along here.

Q: What would you like to get out of this camp, other than a starting job?

A: Obviously, that’s my No. 1 goal, to at least break with the team and head north. But, more importantly, I think if I can go out there with no discomfort — that’s for myself. And No. 2, where the coaches and the front office … aren’t looking to the trainers every day going, “Well, what’s wrong with him now?” I can kind of put their minds at ease …

I’ve only had the one injury. It’s just dragging along for a couple years, which is not unexpected with Tommy John. That’s kind of my big thing. No. 1 get a spot, and No. 2 just prove that I am healthy. Hopefully, it will stay that way.

Q: You were drafted by the Montreal Expos and grew up in Canada. What was that like?

A: It was pretty cool. My entire family, except for myself, is actually born in Montreal. They were all born and raised. My parents moved to Toronto when they were about 19 or 20. So, for me, it was really neat. My grandparents still live there. So, I didn’t actually get to play in the old stadium, but I was there for the game when we were playing. So, my grandparents got to come to that.

Initially, it was kind of awkward because the team at that time wasn’t doing that great, but it was kind of a novelty being a Canadian and going to a Canadian team. I still hold a soft spot, personally. I try not to forget that the Washington Nationals were the Expos. To me, that’s who I was drafted by and this is kind of the same organization. To me, it’s the same team, just kind of transferred over. So, I kind of have a soft spot.

But, it was definitely neat on draft day when I came around. My whole family was there. Going to a Canadian team, you only have two choices. It worked out well.

Q: Growing up, were you an Expos fan or a Toronto Blue Jays fan?

A: I was a Blue Jays fan. I started following them about 1989 when they moved into the SkyDome — Tony Fernandez and all that — and when they went through the World Series with [Roberto] Alomar and Joe Carter.

I was a shortstop my whole life growing up, until I was drafted. That was my first year pitching, so I was a middle infielder. Robbie Alomar was my idol in the early 1990s. I would always see him and Joe Carter having fun and that kind of stuff. They were my favorite team by far.

Q: How big is baseball in Canada?

A: Obviously, hockey is No. 1, but it has gotten a lot bigger with the help of a lot of those traveling teams, the youth teams that are now starting to travel down to the U.S. That’s what I ended up getting into. But, more and more, there are more of those teams. That’s helping a lot of the kids get into college down here.

It’s a little tough because the Canadian kids tend to mature a little bit later baseball-wise because we can’t play all year long. It’s a little bit tougher, but it’s getting a lot bigger. I think there is more knowledge up there now, baseball-wise, to instruct kids, which definitely helps. There’s more programs in place for Baseball Canada.

It’s a slow process, but if you look now compared to 10 years ago when I was coming through, it’s a big, big difference, and there’s a lot more opportunity now. It’s still not nearly as good as playing down south here, but it’s growing.

Q: You said you were converted to a pitcher. Who’s idea was that, and when did that occur?

A: That was coming up when I was a shortstop when I was 17. It was one of my coaches at the end. We didn’t do it until after the season when I was 18 because I was the only shortstop we had on our traveling team. So, I was playing every day. I basically did it in the fall before the year I was drafted. It was his idea just because fielding-wise I wasn’t the greatest. I could hold my own but didn’t have the softest hands at the time.

I probably wouldn’t have gone too, too far. Might have gotten a scholarship, but nothing beyond that. And, he saw possible potential based on just my arm, that if we could work on things and get a good base, we have a shot. He got me into that, and then one of the MLB bureau scouts in Canada — he’s friends with the coach — and he came down and saw me throw, just a bullpen. On his recommendation, he said, “Look, if he can sign and go play minor league baseball, he’s better off there than he would be in college.” He thought I had a chance at that time. So, I basically went off their suggestions.

Q: You weren’t invited to spring training last season. What’s your favorite thing so far about this camp?

A: It’s a big difference going from minor league to a big league camp. Minor league camp can be a lot like boot camp, and we’ve got a lot of guys here this year, but it’s still not 170 guys that you get over at minor league camp.

Especially for me, the past couple years have been a little frustrating, missing time. I’ve only got 100 innings the past two seasons after throwing 150 two years before that or whatever. For me, this year in particular, is kind of a fresh start. I’ve been waiting for it since August. It’s exciting for me.

It’s kind of a little nerve-wracking in a sense because we have so many guys competing for four spots. If you put it in perspective, there’s more opportunity than normal, but there is more competition than normal as well. You kind of try to block it out, but I’m definitely excited at the fact that I’m hopefully healthy and the opportunity. This is a chance that I can show them that I’m healthy and to prove it at the big-league level.

Q: What they saw of you last year, do you think you made a favorable impression?

A: Once I started to struggle with the arm getting stiff, I can’t get the extension. Being a sinkerballer, if I don’t get my extension, I’m toast. I think they have a bit of an understanding that’s probably what the problem was, but I can’t blame it on that. I went out and pitched and didn’t do so hot. I think there’s more left to prove. I had a couple good games and a couple so-so games.

In my mind, those so-so games are bad. Real bad. Regardless of how anybody else views them, I’m usually pretty hard on myself. I hope I left a good taste in their mouth from what I did last year, but I still need to improve a lot in my mind.

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