- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — Shawn Hill was back at Washington Nationals camp yesterday morning with some good news, some bad news and then some encouraging news about his ailing right forearm.

The good news: Specialist David Ruch at Duke University Medical Center confirmed the radial nerve in Hill’s right arm is normal and won’t require surgery.

The bad news: It does not appear Hill will be ready to start on Opening Night at Nationals Park.

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The encouraging news: If all goes well, Hill still could be ready to go one week into the regular season.

All things considered, the Nationals are optimistic about their possible No. 1 starter, who was shut down over the weekend because of tightness in the same forearm that was operated on in October. But after a pair of MRI tests in Florida and North Carolina revealed no structural damage, Hill will be cleared to resume throwing in a few days.

“They think he’s going to be able to work through it,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “That’s good news for the club and good news for Shawn.”

Hill, who went 4-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 16 starts last season despite injuries to both his left shoulder and his right elbow, has pitched with forearm pain before. He mentioned it several times last year and noted that his arm has never been 100 percent healthy since his began pitching professionally eight years ago.

But when the pain began to increase last week during a session throwing to live hitters, Hill brought it to the club’s attention and was shut down. He hopes new medication given to him by Ruch — the same doctor who operated on John Patterson’s right arm last season for a similar nerve injury — along with some different stretching and strengthening exercises will allow him to pitch without too much discomfort.

“If I can get it just under control a little bit more, I’m fine,” he said. “I’ve got no problem. I pitched with discomfort in my elbow for six or seven years. So I’ve got no problem throwing through discomfort and pain. I’ve just got to get to the point where it’s tolerable.”

Hill is expected to resume throwing in a few days. That could conceivably give him enough time to prepare for Opening Night, but manager Manny Acta isn’t counting on that.

“I don’t want to be too quick pulling the trigger, but this right now doesn’t put him on schedule to be ready for Opening Day,” Acta said. “If you’re going to shut him down, then he’s going to start all over with a throwing program and then build up a little bit. It’s an uphill kind of predicament to say that he’s going to be ready to start the season.”

Neither Hill nor Bowden would rule out the possibility of pitching March 30 against the Atlanta Braves in the nationally televised debut of Nationals Park, but a more likely scenario may have Hill available to pitch a week April 6, the first time the team will need a fifth starter.

Patterson, the other candidate to start Opening Night when camp opened, would appear to become the favorite to get the assignment for the second straight year. Last season, he suffered a 9-2 loss to the Florida Marlins at RFK Stadium.

Given Hill’s injury-plagued history, this latest development is not a surprise. The 26-year-old has learned to accept this as part of the job, though he came to camp this spring hopeful he was 100 percent healthy for the first time in his career.

Thus, he wasn’t sure yesterday whether to be relieved to hear he doesn’t need surgery or frustrated to know he’s going to have to continue pitching in pain.

“To be perfectly honest, I’ve had kind of both emotions,” he said. “Part of me is kind of saying, ‘Uncle. What next?’ And part of me is kind of [ticked] off, saying, ‘Whatever. I’m sick and tired of having to be shut down and wait more. I don’t care how much it hurts. Let’s just pitch.’ ”

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