- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — Shawn Hill, as harsh of a self-critic as they come, won’t say this often following one of his starts: “To be honest, I really don’t care how I did. It was more how I felt today.”

Results, though, were the last thing on Hill’s mind yesterday when the Washington Nationals right-hander took the mound in a game situation for the first time this spring. With two fairly nondescript innings of work against a team of Los Angeles Dodgers farmhands, Hill took the next key step toward his return to the big league rotation.

His right forearm held up reasonably well, though Hill admitted he was in pain while warming up. That pain subsided some as he progressed through his two-inning, 39-pitch outing.

“The feeling I had, I expected it to be worse, and it wasn’t all that bad today,” he said. “So I’m kind of encouraged by that.”

Hill allowed two runs on two hits with a walk and two strikeouts and a fastball that was clocked at 91 mph. He admittedly still needs to fine-tune his command, which wasn’t in top form yesterday, but he hopes to start focusing more on actual results when he returns to the mound Saturday for a three-inning start.

The Nationals will keep Hill on a five-day pitching schedule that would conceivably have him on the mound April 13 against the Atlanta Braves.

Sinking feeling

Jason Bergmann made his latest effective start yesterday, holding a potent Detroit Tigers lineup to two earned runs in 52/3 innings. The right-hander allowed only five earned runs in his five exhibition starts.

“That’s our only question mark with him,” Acta said. “Everybody knows he’s got the stuff. Consistency’s been his biggest problem. We wanted to see that out of him, and at least throughout spring training he’s had it.”

Bergmann, whose final tuneup will come Saturday night against the Baltimore Orioles in an exhibition game at Nationals Park, was particularly pleased yesterday with his consistent ability to throw his sinker for strikes.

After having trouble throwing that pitch for strikes, Bergmann realizes he’s going to need to become more of a groundball pitcher with the Nationals moving into a new stadium.

“That’s something I really need to improve on from last year,” Bergmann said. “My groundball-to-fly ball ratio is pretty bad. But I’m throwing a lot more sinkers this year, trying to have the ball hit into the ground and try to get double plays a little bit more and make things easier for everyone.”

Extra bases

Tim Redding, who had to leave Sunday’s game in the fourth inning with back spasms, said he was feeling better yesterday and was given a clean diagnosis by doctors. The right-hander plans to play catch today, then throw off a mound tomorrow in preparation for a start in a minor league game Friday. If all goes well, Redding will stay on schedule and start Washington’s third game of the season April 2 at Philadelphia. …

Recently released pitcher John Patterson signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers and will open the season at Class AAA Oklahoma City. …

Catcher Johnny Estrada took batting practice yesterday for the first time since being shut down with right elbow tendinitis and expects to be ready to come off the disabled list one or two weeks into the regular season. Jesus Flores will open the season as the Nationals’ backup catcher, but Acta said the 23-year-old will be sent to Class AA Harrisburg as soon as Estrada returns.

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