- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 30, 2008

It’s not that Matt Chico wasn’t excited for the Washington Nationals’ first game in their new stadium; he had been looking forward to Opening Day at Nationals Park as much as anyone. It’s just that tonight complete with popping flashbulbs, historic footnotes and congratulatory handshakes wasn’t his Opening Day. That will come Monday at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, where Chico will be responsible for shutting down the same kind of celebratory atmosphere his teammates bathed in tonight. It’s as important a start for the left-hander as tonight’s was for Odalis Perez. Chico’s well-documented delivery overhaul, which included reintroducing the high leg kick he used in high school, will get its first strenuous test today against the defending National League East champion Phillies and heavy hitters like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell. He did some additional tinkering with the delivery in his bullpen session March 23, which included coiling his left leg back more than he was. But the biggest sign of how it’s working will be how Chico fares against a legitimate lineup for his entire start. Those guys are going to be coming out swinging, he said. I’ve got to be ready for that. Chico was 1-0 against the Phillies last season with a 4.22 ERA in two starts. Hitting the road Major League Baseball didn’t give the Nationals much time to enjoy their new stadium. Because the 2008 schedule came out before Washington could be sure the park would be ready for Opening Day, MLB had to make an impromptu schedule change to give the Nationals an early home opener. Washington was set to head for Philadelphia after tonight’s game for a three-game series that was originally scheduled to start its season. It will technically finish a three-game series with the Braves on April 29-30. While players weren’t excited about the quick switch, they knew it was necessary to facilitate the home opener. It’s going to be strange just because we never do it, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. But it’ll be all right. I think it was important for them to get some national exposure for this. We have no problem doing it. Hill in town for opener After throwing 50 pitches in a minor league game in Viera, Fla., on Saturday, starter Shawn Hill flew to Washington for the team’s opener. Hill, who missed the entire spring with soreness in his forearm, knew he would have made the Opening Day start had he been healthy. But he showed no disappointment about watching from the dugout. When I got into camp, I was already starting to hurt a little bit, Hill said. So I never really got my mind-set 100 percent on it. It was looking forward to it if it happened. So it’s not overly disappointing in that sense. Hill said he still feels pain in his arm, but he has been able to pitch through it and said he doesn’t expect it to hinder him through the season. He has two more rehab starts four innings Thursday in Florida and April 8 with Class A Potomac against Myrtle Beach and is still on track to make his major league debut April 13. As the game [Saturday] went on, my velocity was about the same, he said. But I got better command and more of my movement by the time the third inning came around. I was just getting better extension. You kind of learn to accept it a little bit.

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