Sunday, March 08, 2009

Shawn Hill--A Definitive Interview

As The African Queen and I were driving home from Viera, Florida this past Thursday, Nats320 Cub Reporter Tom called from Lakeland. On hand to watch Our Washington Nationals take on The Detroit Tigers in Grapefruit League action, Tom was concerned that Shawn Hill did not make his scheduled start that day. A worry anytime Our Number 41 does not pitch. A red flag rising again that became more bothersome when it was reported that Hill was experiencing more right forearm discomfort in his throwing arm. Another potential setback to his often injured young career.

Talented by any baseball experts stretch of their imagination, but having never been able to pitch 100% healthy in any of his past Major League Seasons--Shawn Hill has yet to reach his potential. Everyone in baseball seems to agree that Hill could make himself a top of the rotation starter, for not only Our Washington Nationals, but many teams in The Major Leagues. He has all the tools, including a terrific sinker. Yet Hill has just never been able to put it all together for one full season. Eventually, Hill was diagnosed on Friday by Dr. James Andrews with inflammation in his right forearm--rest and drugs now prescribed to get him back on track--again. A pitching recovery schedule now in place to find out whether Shawn Hill will make The Starting Rotation in 2009 for Washington.

Since the early days of Our Washington Nationals, Shawn Hill has always been a big favorite of mine. At times, he has been lights out on the mound. He's also been very gracious with his personal time--chatting with The African Queen and I, during each of the three Spring Trainings we have attended in Florida, after rehab starts in Woodbridge, Virginia for The Potomac Nationals, and even after one game at RFK Stadium in 2006.

Getting to know Shawn Hill just a little bit--we've come to understand what he's like. What Shawn Hill is going through year after year. And his gritted determination not to give up--knowing he possesses Major League Pitching Talent. Always fun to chat with--Shawn Hill gave Sohna and I a good 20 minutes of his time after practice in Viera, Florida during our recently completed two week trip there. A few short days before his latest injury flare up.

Shawn Hill is honest, to the point and understands not only the pain he is going through to rehab back to The Major Leagues, but also those frustrations of Our Fans as well everyone else directly worried about his baseball career. Hopefully, this Definitive Interview With Shawn Hill will give you a good reason never to give up on him--because Shawn Hill hasn't given up on himself.

With that here we go with Shawn Hill--A Definitive Interview

So we are doing our annual rite of spring—talking to you. (SBF)

(Everyone laughing) “OK. Let’s go at it.”

You are happy and reportedly healthy in many respects? (SBF)

“Much more so than I was last year. Last year, I wasn’t in pain coming into camp, but I didn’t feel good before camp even started. Then, the more I threw, and early on we throw all the time when it takes more of a toil on some of the guys, and it just wore on me. This year, I've got a little tightness (in his right forearm), but nothing more. It’s just taken me a little more time to get loose. And once I get it loose—and I was tight this morning—I get a lot of heat, a lot of stretching, and by the time I take my first couple of throws it’s tight. By the time I am at 90 feet and I get on the mound---if feels better than at ANY POINT in time last year. So, if it’s one of those things where I need a little more time to loosen up—so be it.”

“I feel better. I am able to throw different pitches and not have to worry about whether it’s going to hurt—different stuff like that.”

No pain? (The African Queen)

“No. No, no pain—its just discomfort in the mornings when I am waking up—stuff like that. But as soon as I loosen up, and I take my time just going through more of a (preparation) routine than I used to have to do. If I do that, I am fine.”

But you are otherwise healthy? (The African Queen)

“Yes. Everything else is great. It’s just a matter of trying to get things straightened out. I feel like the rest of my body is 20 to 25 years old. The arm feels like it’s 50 (laughing). But then I put a little heat on it and once I get it going then it feels like it’s 25 again. (More chuckles from all three of us). It’s just a matter of being deliberate and going through a proper warm up routine—which I never had to do in the past. And if that’s all I have to do to adjust, to be healthy, that's a minor issue.”

Last year, I know we talked about how you were fearful that you would pitch and wake up the very next morning with your right forearm just killing you in pain. You don’t feel that way now? (SBF)

“I am not worried about that. I am trying to be very aware of how I feel just because of the history. I need to be on top of things. And if I am sore tomorrow—we have to figure out why and what we can do to try to get rid of it as quickly as possible. But, I felt good today. I felt like I threw pretty well. I am sure it will be tight tomorrow since I threw, but as long as it’s just normal throwing that everyone gets from throwing—that’s fine. Last year, it was more like I would throw: ‘Please, don’t kill me tomorrow.’ Today, I am of the mindset—‘OK, hopefully it feels good tomorrow.’”

You have command of all your pitches? (SBF)

“Sort of—75 to 80 to 90 percent—somewhere in there. My curveball’s got a little ways to go. It’s always the last thing to come for me each spring. My fastball and changeup are not in mid-season form, but for this time of year I am more than OK with those pitches. My curveball is there, I just need to get it to the release point.”

Many times, when pitchers deal with constant injury or pain—they many times change their delivery. Are you doing the same in any respect? (SBF)

“I am sure I have to a point but my delivery is so simple in the first place—it’s not all kind of wacky where I wouldn’t be able to do certain things. My delivery is just straightforward. I think I have been able to keep it relatively straightforward and the catchers are telling me the pitches are coming out the same—everything looks good. The coaches are telling me everything looks in order and that I look the same as I did before—last year, two years ago, even three and four years ago. So, I don’t think I have changed anything. If it is, it is probably so minute you can’t really tell without going to a slow-motion replay.”

I notice while working with Randy St.Claire today—he was trying to get you to plant your forward foot down in a certain place? (SBF)

“Yes, you are paying attention. That was on my curveball. It’s there (his command) but it’s not there. As soon as he pointed out to me what I was doing—I was quickly able to make the adjustment. Now, it’s just a matter of repeating it and being consistent. For whatever reason, I was getting a little farther (in his stride) and I was going across my body (throwing), just a hair. So, I was coming around (swooping his arm). I shortened my stride to get everything back in place to get my top half (of the delivery) back over the top and throw through. Those little things like that are why it’s great to have him (St.Claire) around. He knows me so well at this point. We have been together for so long at this point. He can see that stuff and say: ‘Hold on, get back to where you need to be.’”

“I like him doing that with me. Some guys take offense with him over those little things. It’s almost as if you have your wife on you again (everyone chuckling). You know what I mean (looking at Sohna). We are allowed to say that. I am married too. (Good round of laughter).

That’s OK!! (The African Queen)

“But to have someone on you all the time to have you focus on the little things. It just helps having him being able to be there for me. Like when I am throwing (Bull)pens in early February—we have a coach down here (in Viera), but he is also catching some of our bullpens. So he can’t focus on all our mechanics all the time. Saint can exclusively look at what I am doing. He knows me. He is able to pick me apart. It’s just that much more beneficial. You can accelerate the process to get your things fine tuned.”

This may be a tougher question. How do you think management looks at you these days? (SBF)


Yeah. (SBF)

“Probably the same way everyone else looks at me. When he is healthy he is fine, in fact good and an asset to the club. When he is not healthy, obviously, he is useless (chuckling—but honest). I think everyone is going to say that.”

But do they have confidence that you can make it? (SBF)

“I would hope so.”

Can you make it? (The African Queen)

“I definitely can. It’s just a matter of a black cloud hanging over my head. The only way I am going to get rid of it so that you two, my teammates, the coaches, management, my family—My Self Even--can kind of say: ‘forget about all that crap.’ Is if I go out there, even if its 20 to 25 games this year—as a stepping block and get shut down at any mark. But ultimately going out there and throwing 30 starts and 200 innings is the only way I get rid of that black cloud--for now.”

“I know it, everybody else knows it. Let me put it this way—I don’t think they (Management) would have brought me back, they could have non-tendered me, and I was going to arbitration. I don’t think they would have brought me back if they didn’t have hope to feel somewhat optimistic that I could get to where they expect me to be and want me to be. Otherwise, they would have cut the ties and said: ‘you know what, we just don’t see it happening.’ That gives me the belief that they are somewhat optimistic and hoping for the best.”

And you are confident you can do it? (SBF)

“Yeah. Right now, and I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. Today, I felt really good throwing. In between, I try to stay even keel: ‘I am good. I am past the hump. I am healthy and good to go.’ I can’t come out right now and say I am healthy in the sense of—stop asking me that ever again. I don’t know, you don’t know and until I step out there on the mound and do it—day after day after day—then I am going to have to answer these questions. But right now, I feel like I am at least on the right track to do so.”

I remember there was a practice here last year where you were throwing live batting practice and no one could touch you that one day. Everyone was raving. Then, almost the very next day—the complications began anew. (SBF)

“Yeah, if was just two days later. I felt great pitching, doing it that day. And I remember I had some tightness. Coming into camp, I was sore with some tightness. But that was different than what I have this year. It’s a completely different sensation than anything else I am dealing with from last year. In a way that has been good because I have gone through so many different things. I can kind of tell and know whether ‘this’ or ‘that’ is something I need to worry about. And whether ‘this’ is something I need to take care of. Last year it was something I needed to worry about and I tried to push through it. It's really now just a matter of seeing how it plays out. I just have to do it as much as I can to help it along—whatever that may be.”

Some when faced with frustration or disappointment can turn that opportunity around to something good. What have you learned from all this? (SBF)

“The only thing that I can take from this, and it has been frustrating to no end. I read different things—people want to get rid of me. I hear I am useless—all that kind of stuff. I can’t really blame them, because if I was on the other side watching a team stick with a guy this long—regardless of what his talent was—you can get frustrated. But as much as people my believe THEY are frustrated—I HAVE BEEN WAY MORE FRUSTRATED. One—not being able to do what I enjoy. Two—not being able to do what I am capable of doing to prove it.”

“The biggest thing is that having not been 100% healthy for quite some time—the first half of ’07 I felt good. Second half—I felt OK—but I tore my shoulder (on that infamous head first slide back into 3rd base at Dolphin Stadium). I was compensating. It wasn’t terrible. I fell off a little at the end—no excuses. But I still wasn’t 100%. The thing that I have learned out of all this is that I am still able to pitch, even last year while taking two painkillers, two percocets for nine starts. But I was still able to hang there and I did not feel good.”

So, I learned how to deal with certain things. I learned how get by with less than when I am 100%. Now, I kind of look forward to getting to 100%. What can I do then? My off days now, when I felt (terrible) like I did before—I now know how to manage those days. It’s all more beneficial to me. The easier days become fun. The difficult days become manageable. I know how to do that now. So, learning how to pitch through the pain and discomfort and being able to handle it has been important.”

If everything goes well—you expect to make the Opening Day Roster? (SBF)

“If I am healthy, I expect it. It’s certainly not my call by any means (No—SBF). Again, that’s why I think they brought me back. If they didn’t expect me to be healthy—they would have non-tendered me. Then, they would have tried to sign me to an minor league deal. There are different options, but the fact they brought me back tells me that when healthy I have my spot. Now, I have to go out there and earn it still. Then, I have to keep it and prove to them that I can stay healthy. And that’s the thing I go off of. They brought me back for a reason—to pitch.”

I would love to be standing here with you next year and say you are a 15 game winner in The Big Leagues. (SBF)

(Laughing) I would love that too!! I wouldn’t mind 20, but I am not going to be greedy. We will start at 10, get to 15 and work our way from there (Shawn really enjoying the moment).”

How's the atmosphere in this camp, there has been a couple of distractions (Smiley, JimBo)? (The African Queen)

“It’s actually been really good—especially for losing 102 games (in 2008). We got some new faces, which helps. It’s a slightly smaller camp—just a little bit smaller—which makes it nice. You get to know the new guys a little bit quicker. Our Spring Training Staff is brand new and I love Kazu (Tomooka--former Strength & Conditioning Coach). I absolutely loved working with him. But it just wasn’t the right mix for this team. For different reasons, he wasn’t able to get the most out of us and keep everyone healthy. We have new PT (Personal Trainers). They have been helping guys—just attacking things differently. And I think there is more of an optimist’s outlook. We had a lot of injuries last year. If I am healthy, I can help the pitching staff. Chad (Cordero) was hurt last year and that hurt the pitching staff. Somebody else got thrown in that could help the staff this year. We know what we are dealing with. We have to just go out there and show it. Nick (Johnson) is healthy. We have Adam Dunn, (Josh) Willingham, (Scott) Olsen is going to be there. We have all these pieces. If they are all healthy, we are a way better team than we were last year. We are better than what we were in ’07. And I said this last year—and I got pie in my face for it—I still don’t see any reason why, if healthy, with our lineup and pitching staff that we don’t at least get to .500.”

“And we are in a tough division. But we have played with those guys when we were hurting a lot. A lot of those games were close games we lost for different reasons. If we had some big bats in there—different story. If we have the clutch pitching—we win those games. I don’t see how we can’t be the 81 to 85-win team—if we are healthy—if not better. I am trying to be realistic. I don’t want to say we are going to win 100 games and all of a sudden win The World Series. Being realistic, I think we can be a .500 team which, long term, is not what you want—but coming off 59 wins I think a lot of people would be pretty happy with that."

“Overall, it’s a much better atmosphere. Manny (Acta) is a key part of that. He is always positive. I think they are taking a little more of a firm stance as to ‘we need to get this done.’ We have the plan in place, but Manny doesn’t want to win four years from now. He wants to win this year. He probably doesn’t expect to win The World Series this year either, but he wants to win. He wants to field a very competitive team and surprise a lot of people and there is no reason not to.”

With that final answer--Our Definitive Interview with Shawn Hill concluded. Never one to beat around the bush--Our Number 41 just tells it like it is. A refreshing outlook from a Major League Baseball Player honest with his assessment of not only himself, but the game he loves to play.

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SenatorNat said...

It is such a shame that his forearm is acting up again, since he is Brandon Webb-East when healthy. He may be right that that infamous slide hurting his left shoulder has screwed up his body mechanics. Maybe he needs to work out with the heavy pipe Philbin had Dunn working with - would either kill him for good or cure the problem!

Speaking of Dunn, what a weekend Nats new slugger had for USA - he was 7 for 8 - two Hondo sized blasts, included - and two excellent plays in the field. And, a terrific, fun, energenic attitude in the dugout. If he can start the season for the Nats even half this productive, he will find himself among some very loyal appreciate and enthusiastic fans and teammates. And his eye this weekend belies the notion that he is 21st century Dave Kingman - he really is superbly patient at the plate and his swing seems under control. I cannot understand why he strikes out to the extent he does, since his batting eye seems so refined. And his swing in the two games seems relatively level. This could be (knock on Jim Bow-Bow's head) a fantastic bargain for the Nats - truly hope so. (Toronto GM must be a bit embarassed for Mr. Dunn to be doing this in his park, in light of his gratuitous, unnecessary comments about Adam's lack of passion for the game, too.)

Trust in the grown-ups running the Nationals. And a big good-natured kid batting clean-up. All good.

Tom said...

Great interview, but you need a post flame up interview now. Very sad story if Shawn can't get the pain under control.