- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2008

As much as Shawn Hill tried to convince himself he could pitch his way through the stinging sensation he gets in his forearm every time he throws a baseball, he knew he couldn’t keep doing this forever.

“At some point in time, you have to be realistic about the situation,” the Washington Nationals right-hander said. “I’m not helping the team. I’m not helping myself numbers-wise. I’m hurting the bullpen, putting Manny in a bad spot. And I know it’s not because I’m just making poor pitches that I’m capable of making. I’m just not right right now.”

So following his latest subpar performance - three labored innings during the Nationals’ 8-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night - Hill decided the time has come to shut himself down and seek yet another medical opinion.

The 27-year-old hurler, who is now 1-5 with a 5.83 ERA in 12 starts, will travel to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in the coming days to have his arm examined. He likely will return to the disabled list for the fifth time in the last four years.

“We just want to take care of the kid,” manager Manny Acta said. “We want to make sure everything’s OK.”

Things are not OK for Hill or for the Nationals, who have lost seven of their last eight. Tuesday’s clobbering at the hands of the Angels was only the latest example, a ballgame that saw Washington (30-49) surrender six runs in the first-inning, commit four errors and fail to hit a ball out of the infield over the evening’s final four innings.

The Nationals also lost catcher-turned-outfielder Paul Lo Duca in the top of the second to what was described as “light-headedness” and required a trip to the hospital for precautionary tests.

Lo Duca, making his first appearance in left field since July 9, 2004, told Acta and team trainers he felt dizzy and couldn’t continue. He was taken to Sibley Memorial Hospital, where he received an IV, a CT scan and blood tests. Doctors found nothing out of the ordinary and released him later in the evening.

“He should be OK,” Acta said.

The Nationals don’t know whether they can say the same about Hill, who has endured swift downfall from potential ace of the staff to its least-effective starter.

Hill has dealt with discomfort in his forearm since early 2007. He had surgery last fall to decompress a nerve that runs down the length of his arm, but the discomfort has never fully subsided. He has attempted to pitch through it all and Tuesday night said he had taken painkillers to help him get through his starts.

The results, though, have been uncharacteristic for a pitcher who last season held opposing hitters to a .235 batting average.

These days, Hill is getting hit hard. With his mechanics thrown out of whack, he has surrendered 88 hits over 63 1/3 innings, with opponents batting .331 against him. Over his last 11 2/3 innings, he has allowed 20 runs (16 earned) and 30 hits.

Though he has refused to use the pain as an excuse for his performance, the Nationals know better.

“It has to be,” Acta said.

So Hill will make the trip to Minnesota, hoping someone can help get him back to the one place he feels comfortable: on a pitching mound.

“Maybe two weeks off, a week off, a month off, whatever it might be … I might come back and feel like a new guy,” he said. “And I might not. I have no idea.”

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