Monday, July 30, 2007
10 Minutes With Shawn Hill
The Stars all aligned for me tonight in a very unexpected way. On a day Our Washington Nationals DID NOT have a scheduled game, it just so happened today was an Off Day for me also. This on a Monday--The Potomac Nationals were playing a Home Game against The Wilmington Blue Rocks in Woodbridge. On Washington Post $1 Ticket Night in which Washington's Shawn Hill was making his first Rehab Start--attempting to get back on the field for Our Big League Club. Living less than 20 Minutes from Pfitzner Stadium--there was no way I going to miss the event. And, if I got lucky--Shawn Hill would chat with me.
Was fortune ever on my side tonight.
Right off the bat, I ran into Brian Oliver from Nationals Farm Authority. Pleased that he remembered me and was kind enough to come over and chat for some time. Then, Our Manager Manny Acta walked into the small ballpark, near Potomac Mills Mall, along with Bullpen Coach, Rick Aponte. We all started laughing upon seeing each other. "I can imagine why you are here, Manny?" I said. Manny replied: "Hey, I got my P-Nats Cap On!! And, I want to watch a ball game, MAN!!" All the while flashing that charismatic smile that I love so much. Handshakes and Smiles all around. And, you can just tell that Rick Aponte is Manny's trusted friend and advisor. Each time I have run into these two--they respond so well between each other. Moments that are very nice to see.
After chatting with Our Manager, if was off to The Potomac Nationals Batting Cages to speak with Our Young 19 Year Old Slugger--Chris Marrero, and Centerfielder Justin Maxwell. Later, as the game began--here comes Matt Chico and Tim Redding. Both Pitchers showing up to support their teammate and friend--Shawn Hill. For a $1 entrance fee, this turned out to be quite the successful night.
For his part this evening--Our Number 41 pitched three full innings, gave up three hits and no runs. Limited to a scheduled 50 pitches, Hill threw fastballs and some off speed--but no change up. Then, after finishing off his short stint of just 39 pitches--moved down to The P-Nats first base bullpen and threw a side session to reach the 50 pitch count. When concluded--Shawn Hill was done for the night. During his stint on the mound, Manny Acta and Rick Aponte watched from the stands. P-Nats Pitcher Shairon Martis charted Shawn's effort. And, once completed--handed the chart over to Manny for review and a signoff.
As The Potomac Nationals/Wilmington Blue Rocks game continued--Shawn Hill emerged from The P-Nats Clubhouse and signed autographs for quite some time with most any fan that wished. Some had up to 20 Shawn Hill Baseball Cards to sign. And, Hill signed them all. Then, upon completion--Shawn Hill was kind enough to turn to me and chat for nearly 10 minutes.
So, here we go:
First things First. How did it go tonight and how do you feel? (SBF)
“I feel fine. Everything went reasonably well, all things considered. I threw a majority of strikes, I guess. I need to work on my off speed stuff, more than anything.” (Any Pain? —SBF) “Nope, none. Nothing yet. I needed to stretch it (his elbow) out a little bit and build up my arm strength.”
What’s the next step to follow? (SBF)
“This Saturday I will have a Rehab start—4 innings, 65 pitches max—that is if all is well tomorrow morning when I get up.”
Will that start be here for Potomac? (SBF)
“It might be here, but if that’s the case, I will travel to Winston-Salem for their game. Possibly, that start could be for Columbus (AAA Affiliate). Or, even Harrisburg. But, I really have no idea yet. Very tentative.”
The last time everyone at RFK Stadium saw you, you were walking off the mound, injured—but pitching a no hitter. Has it frustrated you to leave on such a note and be out for such a long time? (SBF)
“Oh YES! I missed all of ’05 with the injury. Then, last year was a flare up from the surgery, which you kind of expect. But then this year, to have the problem occur, in the way it did, on that base running play in Miami causing the problem. My opposite shoulder (non throwing) was hurt. All that stuff is unfortunate. But, I knew I was playing well—which has made sitting and watching the games a little easier to take.”
When you injured your left shoulder—did you basically get your pitching mechanics out of whack by overcompensating for your pain? (SBF)
“Yeah. What happened was that I was always fine at the beginning of each game. But, as the game wore on it (his shoulder) would hurt a little bit, but then get weak. Sort of like a bruised muscle when you don’t realize it. So, by compensating without really thinking about it, my mechanics got way out of whack. My arm slot was bad, which put stress on the elbow. After four games of that, it was just going to be a matter of time before I just would have to take myself out of a game. So, they (Nats Management) just got to it before I did.”
You were doing so well, it’s really got to bother you to sit and watch? (SBF)
“Honestly, a lot. I still have to pitch well and make a name for myself so hopefully next year I will have my job locked up. But, I got along way to go. So, sitting around and watching all the other guys come in do their thing is bothering. If you sit around on the sidelines too long then you can easily be forgotten about.”
But it also has to hurt that when you went down—you were just starting to make a name for yourself, league wide? (SBF)
“Yes, that’s why I was still going out there to be honest. I didn’t want to give up something I had worked so hard to gain. If I was giving up 5 runs per game and hurting the team, we stop it (shut him down) earlier. But, because I was throwing reasonably well, keeping the team in the game—I was getting 6 innings or so per game—I tried to get through each and every game as far as I could. Hopefully, I was trying to build up the strength in my left shoulder. But, it didn’t work out. That’s why it was so frustrating to come out. I was keeping my team in the game, eating innings. Unfortunately, it was bound to happen, considering the way the injury was.”
How has the support been from The Nationals—Manny, Randy St.Claire? (SBF)
“Its good (Smiling). They give me a hard time every once in a while. They razz me a little bit because I have been on the DL (Disabled List) for so long. But, at the same time, they are concerned—asking me how I am doing. Now that I am throwing---it’s good to see Manny come out to show support. He’s the same way when I throw my bullpens (Manny Acta is there). He is great with advice.”
Yeah, I saw Manny when he walked in—he told me he had to come see HIS MAN!! (SBF)
(Both of us chuckling) “Yeah, that’s the way he is, but I am sure he’s also here to see how Chris (Marrero) is adjusting (to High A Ball). Manny is great. He is hands on with everything. He told me last Friday when I threw my Bullpen—he was going to come tonight. I appreciate the support.”
Let’s talk about the team. As far as the pitching is concerned—the efforts put forth on the mound by everyone this season is far better than anyone expected. Who gets credit for that? (SBF)
“You could hand out credit to a lot of folks. Many pitchers have just stepped it up. There is talent on this ball club. You could credit “Saint” (Randy St.Claire), who is obviously hands on. Manny for always being encouraging and constantly saying: ‘You know what? You are going back out there. Don’t worry about it.’ He’s great at the--pick yourself up--kind of comment. And, you have to give credit to our catchers—(Brian) Schneider and Flo (Jesus Flores). Both of those guys have done a great job as well.”
“If I had to credit the most, it would be “Saint” and Schneider. Because “Saint” is mighty hands on with the pitchers and all the bullpen--He’s everywhere. And Schneider--just for his ability to handle the pitchers. The older guys he doesn’t have to worry about—but we don’t have many of them (smiling). So, with the young guys, he’s (Schneider) firm when he needs to be. But, most of the time he’s very supportive--let's go type of attitude. Brian is really an asset. I don’t think I could underestimate that fact. He could hit .150 and be a great asset to any team. That’s just the way he is at handling everything behind the plate during a game and with any pitcher. Schneider and “Saint” both extremely valuable.”
Matt Chico has told me Brian Schneider means everything to him when he is on the mound. (SBF)
“Yes, I believe that. And, Flo (Flores) is the same way. You feel confident as a pitcher. But, with Schneider he just puts something down to throw and you just trust it. Once in a while (with Brian) you have your own thought. But, most of the time, he puts something down (to throw) and I just go—‘OK’. He's right most every time. He knows what he’s talking about. He knows the hitters. And, Brian makes it easier for me to just do my thing.”
For a guy that gets beat up most every night (Schneider), its really amazing that he keeps going out there. (SBF)
“Yes, its incredible sometimes the pain he suffers (physically).”
Speaking of Flores, how much have you seen him improve since Spring Training? (SBF)
“I went with him a few times in Spring Training. But, its Spring Training, I didn’t really get a good feel then to know the guy. He’s trying to get into shape, like we are as pitchers. So, if he’s a little rusty coming back, you just don’t know. Schneider was the same way. He was coming back from a long off-season and trying to get into shape. But, he (Jesus Flores) has improved dramatically since the start of the season. First, with the bat--he’s a lot more comfortable now. Catching, I think that he is learning that pitchers aren’t just going to shake him off every time. He’s beginning to learn that we (pitchers) have trust in him as a staff. So, he’s a little more comfortable knowing he doesn’t have to second guess himself at times, and eat himself up if he does make a bad call. I think it’s just a comfort level with him. He feels a lot better out there.”
He’s a really good young talent. No one can deny that fact. (SBF)
(Nodding appreciably) “Very, very good. Its really surprising that we (The Nationals) could get someone as solid as he is in The Rule V Draft.” (He hasn’t embarrassed himself at all. SBF) “No, a couple of weeks there his batting average went down a little bit. But, he picked it back up. Defensively, he can throw out guys. What an arm! He really is good, even at his young age. In a few years, he’s going to be an extremely solid Major League Catcher.”
Last question—Are we (The Fans) going to see you back at RFK Stadium this season? We can only hope? (SBF)
“Hopefully in two weeks. Hopefully. But, I never want to place a timetable on it. That will be up to Jim (Bowden—General Manager), “Saint” (Randy St.Claire) and all those guys. It depends on what they want to do. Ideally, after the west coast trip (second week of August), I will return to the club.”
With that, Shawn Hill had to leave. He along with Matt Chico and Tim Redding headed off for the short trip back up Interstate 95 to their homes. Pleased I was that Shawn took the time to speak with me. No hurry, whatever I wished to ask—he was kind enough to answer (although I didn’t want to take too much of his time away). Really, I couldn’t thank him enough.
In fact, what I find very refreshing when it comes to most every single player, coach and manager of Our Washington Nationals—IS THE WILLINGNESS TO STOP AND CHAT. And, not just to me. Everybody that wanted even the briefest of moments. Matt Chico, Tim Redding, Shawn Hill, Rick Aponte and Manny Acta all took time to speak or sign an autograph with just about anyone that showed up tonight at The P-Nats game. There is openness and fan friendliness associated with Our Team, that I just don’t recall seeing at most other venues involving Major League Teams and their players.
A cordial, inviting atmosphere that should be cherished for as long as it lasts.
PS: Finally-I just wanted to thank Brian Oliver from The Nationals Farm Authority for being very helpful to me this evening in Woodbridge. The Minor Leagues are his turf. And, he knows everybody. Brian was kind enough to pass along and share some information. His kindness was very much appreciated by me.