Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Shawn Hill In Woodbridge

If Shawn Hill is pitching anywhere in my vicinity--you can bet a baseball game will be attended by me. So it was--as Sohna and I headed 13 Miles south of our home. This evening--Our Washington Nationals Top Major League Starting Pitcher was making his first Re-Hab start in Woodbridge, Virginia. Our Number 41 the Opening Night Starter for The Potomac Nationals 2008 Season. Yes, Pfitzner Stadium is a far cry from New Nationals Park--but the stakes were just as high. Shawn HIll wants to pitch in The Major Leagues this Sunday--against The Atlanta Braves. Starting tonight against Atlanta's Single A Affiliate--Myrtle Beach--was the stepping stone to that goal.

Handed the assignment of throwing 80 pitches against The Pelicans--Hill was attempting to prove to The Major League Staff he is fit and ready--whether or not--is forearm strain continues to give him pain. And Our Washington Nationals top field brass posted up to watch this event. When Our Manager Manny Acta, Bench Coach Pat Corrales, Bullpen Coach Rick Aponte and Head Athletic Trainer Lee Kuntz all sit directly behind home plate--watching intently--the moments at hand were obviously important for both the near and long term future of Our Washington Nationals.

Reaching 91 MPH on his fastball consistently, Shawn Hill mostly didn't disappoint. For the first three innings--throwing predominately fastballs and a few curves against an entirely righthanded hitting Myrtle Beach Lineup--tonight's Number 31 in your scorecard--retired the side in order. But in the fourth--The Pelicans found some range against Shawn--a walk, a clean single and an infield hit--a saved run nicely caught by P-Nats Shortstop Seth Bynum's diving stop of a blistering ground ball--setting up a bases loaded situation. Later, in the post game press conference, Hill stated his legs were tightening up on him at this time and he was struggling. Teetering on the brink of a possible disaster--Shawn fought back and struck out the final Myrtle Beach Batter to retire the side. And later in his 5th and final inning-- a double play grounder saved him from further trouble.
When all was said and done--Shawn Hill completed 5 shutout innings, allowed four hits, one walk and struck out four. Dominate at first--as the game progressed--he tired, noticeably.

Our Manager Manny Acta stating: "He was not the same pitcher over the final two innings. I will have to see how how he felt."

After Shawn's five innings facing live--game situation hitters--he proceeded to head down to the P-Nats Bullpen to finish off his scheduled 80 pitch limit. A number he did not reach during his five innings at Pfitzner Stadium tonight. After that session ended--Hill was joined by Corrales, Aponte and Kuntz--along with Potomac Pitching Coach Randy Tomlin to discuss the nights efforts.
Later--in The Potomac Nationals Clubhouse--Shawn answered questions from the media--including reporters from The Fredericksburg Freelance Star, Comcast Sports Net, Brian Oliver from The Nationals Farm Authority Blog and myself.

Here is that Press Conference:

“The first couple of innings it was nice and easy, towards the end my mechanics started to get away from me a bit. I was yanking it a little bit, but overall—pretty good.”

Question: Jim (Bowden) told us last night he is convinced you are healthy and it’s just a matter of performance. No runs, four hits, four strikeouts over five innings is a pretty good performance. Do you feel that you have now earned the start on Sunday (against The Atlanta Braves at New Nationals Park)?

“I don’t know about earning anything. That is entirely their decision (management). As you know, it was not The Braves I was facing tonight, it’s a totally different ballgame we are dealing with here (at Potomac). Being able to go out there and throw a majority of fastballs and they (the hitters) can not even get to it—is different than going up against The Braves. You know they can get to it (his fastball) and I will have to mix in the pitches a lot. So, this is different, but I feel I am ready to go.”

Question: Was it mostly fastballs tonight?

“Remember, I faced an entirely right handed lineup tonight. So, I didn’t throw any changeups—which I would have like to have done. The curveball was OK. When I got a little side to side (in his delivery) it got away from me a little bit. But, overall, it was where I needed to be for now. And my fastball is definitely where it needs to be.”

Question: What was the pain like in your arm?

“No pain today. Warming up I get a little bit of the pulling, but once I gear up and decide I am throwing full speed—there is not really any pain. There is a little tightness that as I go on—a little bit—I need to make sure I am getting loose. But, when I am gearing up for full speed—I am fine.”

Question: Do you feel like you can go out on Sunday and be successful?

“Yeah, yeah, I don’t want to say that and then go out there and get shelled. But, I think that if I go out there and throw like I should be able to throw—I don’t think the arm is going to hold me back at this point. It’s going to be more of a performance issue. I think I should be able to.”

Question: Was it cool to be in a real game, with a scoreboard?

“And an umpire behind the plate? Yeah, it was with a real team behind me and a mound. So, yeah—it was definitely different. I was trying to hold the runners and be quick pitching to the plate—that type of stuff. Like I said—the only other nice thing would have been a lefthanded hitter in the lineup. Then, I could have thrown the changeup, try to front door him and that sort of stuff.”

Question: You said you feel pain when you warm up. Does it take longer for you to warm up?

“No—I am definitely doing a lot more to get loose before the game. Whether that means getting on the bike, doing cardio exercises—just to be sure my body is ready to go—instead of getting loose to throw instead of throw to get loose. That sort of thing. But once I am out there in between innings—I am just throwing to make sure I am getting it going again. And the first pitch that I throw full speed—doesn’t bother me. So, I just kind of gear up and go.”

Question: You are not feeling any pain between innings?

“No. No, the only time I really feel it is during the warm-ups before the game—a little bit as I am starting to get it loose (his forearm). And in between innings—the first couple of pitches. When I start up the change up and curve ball—it’s fine.”

Question: You mentioned earlier that your fastball was doing well. Are you pleased with the speed of it all and your command? (SBF)

“As far as I know—the velocity was fine. The command for the first couple of innings—I was very pleased. Toward the end—it got away from me. My mechanics started to get a little quick toward the plate—spinning off a little bit. But, I went down to the bullpen and finished up—concentrating on staying back and getting through the ball—and I was able to do that. It’s something I just have to be aware of. You know—I haven’t pitched a whole lot this year already. So, it’s something I just have to be conscience of when I am throwing.”

Question: Yeah and I have heard that if you wake up tomorrow and feel pain—you will be able to pitch through it? (SBF)

“Yeah, at this point, as long as its not excruciating stabbing pain that I can almost feel that I cannot bend my arm—I have no problem throwing through it. Tightness and a little bit of pain—I have played through it. My elbow was torn for five years of whatever. So, I am use to the discomfort. If I don’t have that pain, pain—I am fine.”

Question: And it doesn’t matter if it is cold outside—does it? (SBF)

“No it doesn’t, and it really was not that cold out here—to tell you the truth. But, in the fourth and fifth innings I felt my legs getting a little tight (tonight). Just the first time going through—something that maybe in between innings—I need to ride a bike for a couple of minutes (to stay loose). But, other than that---I was fine.”

Question: When you went back down to the bullpen after throwing in the game—what were you trying to accomplish? (SBF)

“That was mainly to get up to my pitch count (80). I didn’t throw enough pitches during the game. And when I was down there—I was working on getting my mechanics back in order.”

Question: Has anyone told you what your pitch count will be in your next start—where ever that will be?

“No idea yet. We will find out again tomorrow. I have no idea.”

Question: Were you happy to be able to work from the stretch a little bit? In the first few innings—you were just mowing them down.

“As much as I don’t want the guy to get on base—it was kind of nice to get a situation where I can work on holding runners on base. St. (Randy St.Claire) is really big on holding runners on base and being quick to the plate. That’s actually what I didn’t do well at first (tonight). I started to get too quick and get away from the rubber. Once I was able to get that under wraps—I was OK. But it’s something I need to work on definitely—which is something I haven’t been able to do a lot of---it was kind of good and kind of bad.”

Following that group presser--Sohna and I had a private conversation with Shawn Hill concerning not only his lingering injury but thoughts about New Nationals Park.

Here is that conversation:

Is it frustrating having this issue pop up again? (SBF)

“Yes, definitely. The only bright side is that it’s early enough that if I get back out there on Sunday—I have really only missed two weeks. Yes, that is still frustrating, but in the big picture—over a six month season—there is still five and one half months. There is still a chance for 30 some starts if all goes well. So, basically (the frustration) will depend on how well the rest on the season goes.”

I remember talking to you in Spring Training. You said then you are still a young guy and have a 15 year window ahead for your future in the game. After all this—you still seem positive. (SBF)

“Yeah, I am. At this point—if I can get over this (forearm strain)—my shoulder has always held up well—knock on wood. I have never had any other problems other than my elbow and now this forearm. I have the surgery and this could be a result of that. We really don’t know what it is at this point. If I get over this hump and continue to throw—and nothing else really bothers me—I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be able to have a long career.”

You really had no pain tonight? (SBF)

“Well, there is a little discomfort, minimal pain. But it is nothing where it’s in something I am throwing in a game situation. I am not thinking about it. When I threw my last live BP (Batting Practice), was shut down and went to Duke (University for diagnosis)—every pitch I was kind of thinking: ‘How much is this going to hurt.’ Where as tonight and the last couple of times I have thrown—I feel it—but it’s not debilitating in any way. So, I can deal with it.”

We saw you on the bench last night at Nationals Park. Your impressions of it? (SBF)

“Well, I was there Opening Night also. That alone was a big impression. There is still a lot of work to be done-a lot of little things. There is definitely a nice foundation for it—give it a couple of weeks, months—whatever it is—that park is going to be pretty sweet. The BIG THING is if we can pack those fans in. It was a lot more fun—to be honest—when we saw the crowd on Opening Night. Just the entire environment with people cheering for you—pulling for you the whole time. As opposed to last night (against The Marlins) when even in key situations—where the fans should be getting up and kind of backing everybody—it was fairly quiet. (Yes, it was—SBF). That’s the only thing that was disappointing.”

We were the only two yelling. (The African Queen)

“Where you?” (Laughing) “While freezing yourselves?” (everyone busting out laughing)

In fact, everyone was looking at us like we were nuts. (The African Queen)

“Yeah, I understand. It’s going to take the fans a little while—to not necessarily get educated—but find a loyalty toward the team and kind of make the stadium feel it’s Our Home—that’s going to take a little while.”

Any early impression on how the ballpark plays—from a pitching standpoint? (SBF) Those five home runs so far have been pretty much launched.

“”Yes and no. The balls that were hit yesterday (by Florida) were really well hit. They were not of the cheap variety—wall scrapers. It almost depends on the wind. Apparently, the Saturday I was not there (The Exhibition Game) the wind was apparently blowing in really hard and nothing was getting out. And then during The Braves game (Opening Night), that almost played kind of neutral. The balls that Chipper (Jones) and Zimm (Ryan Zimmerman) hit I did not think were going out. But they did—just getting over the wall. So, the ballpark was a little neutral—maybe favoring a little blowing out. And yesterday—I thought the ballpark was fairly neutral—a little blowing out again. Look, give it a month or so—and probably wait until the warm weather too—because it might play that way now—but give the ballpark the warm weather—the ball my really fly or the humidity might knock it down.”

I am actually waiting to see what happens with that stone backstop behind home plate. It’s dangerous. (Yes, it is—Shawn Hill).

“It’s probably going to get people hung up like happened to me last year in Florida (When Shawn dislocated his left shoulder diving back into 3rd base). You think the ball is passed and the next thing you know it’s back of the catcher or bouncing off down the first base line.”

During the exhibition game between George Washington University and St. Joseph’s that exact scenario played out. A wild pitch bounced off the wall and headed down the first baseline. (SBF)

“Really? (Yes, SBF) I can see that being a situation where you have the runner hung up and out, or the runner gets two bases.”

Stan Kasten was quoted stating the very moment he saw it occur—he got on his phone and called Jim Bowden to say this is going to be an issue in this ballpark. (SBF)

“Oh yeah. It’s a nice feature—but you might want to smooth out or grind down that stone, or something—to even it out. At least then you are not dealing with (Paul) LoDuca turning around (Pretending to not know where the ball is) and not knowing where to go. (Everyone chuckling—his stance showing confusion was great). If the backstop is smooth—at least you know the ball is going to come back to you. But, there will be a lot of quirks I am sure.”

With that Our Conversation With Shawn Hill came to an end.

If you have read The Nats320 Blog for any length of time--you understand that Shawn Hill is one of my favorite players. Injuries aside--he is not only very talented, but astute about The Great Game. He understands the Big Picture--when it comes to his career and the future of Our Washington Nationals. Always to the point about his work--Our Number 41's fresh and honest assessments are interesting to hear. He doesn't hold back, whether on the field of play or after--to the media. You have to root for guy like this. If Shawn Hill could ever get healthy--he could be one of the better pitchers in Major League Baseball. He is that talented. We have all been teased by his work. Hopefully, Our Number 41's God Given abilities will no longer be affected by pain.

PS--Many thanks to Anthony Oppermann--The Assistant General Manager, Media & Sales for The Potomac Nationals. Mr. Oppermann kindly set everything up for Sohna and I tonight in Woodbridge, Virginia. And also to Jonathan Griffith--The P-Nats General Manager who facilitated the media availability with Shawn Hill. Your efforts were very much appreciated by Sohna and I.

1 comment:

Sam said...

In Sec 216 we were yelling too! Not only cheering on our Nats but jeering at Home Plate Umpire Adrian Johnson's remarkable strike zone!!