- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — In a rotation race that doesn’t have many contenders who seem to want to win jobs, Shawn Hill has stood out. Two starts into his spring-training schedule, the Washington Nationals right-hander is doing his part to make the Opening Day squad.

Hill came through with another impressive outing yesterday in a 5-2 loss to the Houston Astros, allowing one run on three hits in three innings at Osceola County Stadium. The first member of the staff to start two games, Hill has posted a 1.80 ERA and has yet to walk a batter in five innings.

On this club, that’s probably good enough to merit the No. 2 spot in the rotation behind ace John Patterson, but Hill isn’t relaxing just yet.

“I feel good about what I’ve done so far,” the 25-year-old said. “But it’s way too early to get too happy, too settled or too comfortable with what I’ve done. There’s still too much to come. If I get content with what I’ve done already, I could just dig myself a hole.”

Maybe so, but there doesn’t seem to be much stopping Hill right now. While fellow rotation mates Jerome Williams (27.00 ERA), Tim Redding (40.50 ERA) and Joel Hanrahan (135.14 ERA) have struggled, Hill has thrived.

“We all know Shawn just needs to be healthy, and all the rest will take care of itself,” manager Manny Acta said.

Guzman in the field

Cristian Guzman played three innings at shortstop in a morning minor league game in Viera, his first action in the field this spring.

Guzman, who missed all of 2006 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, emerged from yesterday’s game in good shape. The Nationals, though, will continue to be cautious with him. He will be re-evaluated today and will serve only as designated hitter against the Astros at Space Coast Stadium.

If all goes well, Guzman could appear in the field in a major league game for the first time this spring within a few days.

Escobar scratched

Outfielder Alex Escobar was a late scratch from the lineup after complaining of tightness in his left quadriceps.

Escobar, who is still working his way back from a separated right shoulder and has yet to play in the field, was due to be Washington’s DH against Houston but had to be replaced by Kory Casto.

Already trying to squeeze his way into an outfield that includes Austin Kearns, Ryan Church, Nook Logan and Chris Snelling, Escobar is perpetually trying to break free from his injury-riddled reputation.

“It’s up to him,” Acta said. “If he’s healthy, he’ll be with us. If he’s not healthy, then somebody else will.”

Extra bases

Despite solid pitching performances from Hill, Chris Schroder (two hitless innings) and Jon Rauch (one scoreless inning), the Nationals lost when reliever Saul Rivera was roughed up for four runs in the sixth. Rivera gave up a pair of homers: a solo shot to Craig Biggio and a towering, three-run blast to Morgan Ensberg. …

Acta and general manager Jim Bowden will make their first round of roster cuts today, and with 72 players still in camp, a hefty number will be reassigned. …

Jason Simontacchi will start today’s game against the Astros, with Patterson pitching in an accelerated minor league camp game at the same time. Matt Chico will start tomorrow against the Baltimore Orioles in Fort Lauderdale.

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