- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — The wind was blowing, he wasn’t locating his fastball and he admittedly wasn’t ready for the game to start.

But Shawn Hill showed something encouraging to the Washington Nationals yesterday, overcoming early struggles to pitch effectively in a 9-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“First inning, terrible,” the right-hander said. “After that, not too bad.”

That’s an accurate description of Hill’s fourth spring training outing. He walked two and gave up two singles in the top of the first, yet managed to escape without a run scoring after leadoff man Rafael Furcal was thrown out trying to steal third. After that, he cruised, retiring 12 of the last 14 batters he faced before departing following the fifth inning.

With that scoreless start, Hill added to his impressive spring resume. He now owns a 1.29 ERA, having allowed just two earned runs in 14 innings while locking up the No. 2 spot in the Washington rotation behind ace John Patterson.

In addition to the solid numbers, Hill has impressed the Nationals with his ability to pitch through some potentially hazardous innings. When he struggled to keep his fastball over the plate in the first inning yesterday, he turned to some of his other pitches, including a changeup he said was his best this spring.

That kind of maturity hasn’t gone unnoticed by manager Manny Acta.

“He’s pretty sharp,” Acta said. “He’s a smart guy who’s able to make adjustments.”

Tough decisions loom

The Nationals plan to make their next round of cuts tomorrow, but they will leave their most-pressing roster decisions until the final week of camp and possibly even until the team heads north for three last exhibition games before its April 2 season opener.

“I don’t think all of the decisions will be made in Florida,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “I think we’ll try to make as many of them as we can prior to leaving here, but I think they may happen in Columbus, in Norfolk or even at RFK.”

The Nationals plan to take more than 25 players north with them, including a handful who will be competing for the final spots in the bullpen and on the bench. The name of Washington’s No. 5 starting pitcher probably will be known before then because he has to be slotted into the rotation to make his first start of the season.

One of Bowden’s toughest tasks will involve players who are out of minor league options and thus must be exposed to waivers before getting sent to the minors. Included on that list are pitchers Tim Redding and Jerome Williams, infielders Josh Wilson and Joe Thurston and outfielders Chris Snelling, Alex Escobar, Michael Restovich and Abraham Nunez.

Extra bases

Catcher Brian Schneider will miss his third straight game today with tightness in his left hamstring. …

The Nationals released five players from minor league camp: right-hander Colby Lewis, left-hander Luis Martinez, infielders Jose Macias and Jorge Toca and outfielder Wayne Lydon.

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