Capital Hill

The best performance of the week goes to one Mr. Shawn Hill. What began as a hot start has turned into a legitimate possibility of a bona fide major league pitcher, the best on the team. Especially with Patterson still not fully recovered. Or properly coiffed. Have you seen that guy’s hair? Anyway, back to Hill, who had a terrific outing Thursday night, outdueling Cole Hamels. Hamels is the pitcher of the future for the Phillies, just as, it appears, that Hill may be the pitcher of the future for the Nats. But on Thursday it seemed that Hill and his sinker were most certainly of the present. For those of you who missed it, take it from Nats first baseman and butcher’s tool Da Meat Hook:

A couple of batters that actually reached first base were talking about how nasty he was, and how they didn’t want to face him

But don’t just listen to the guys on the field. On TNR we like actual proof, so let’s look at Hill’s line from Thursday night:8.0 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 3 K. A superb night for a pitcher with 14 Shawn Hill and his magic floating ball trickmajor league starts, although not completely surprising as Hill brought his season ERA down to 2.76, and has yet to give up more than 2 ER in any start this season. Keep this up and he’ll have some wins by the end of the year. The low strikeout numbers are completely expected from Hill, who is more Chien-Ming Wang than Brandon Webb as a sinkerballer than gets people to ground out, but doesn’t strike out many. He also did this all with only 99 pitches, fairly economical to get to the 9th inning. What’s nice about a groundball pitcher like Hill is that, since he doesn’t need to take the time to get to 3 strikes, he can have some very quick innings. Which means when he’s pitching well, he’ll pitch many innings and rest the beleaguered bullpen. The Nats bullpen has struggled a bit of late, and it is not because of lack of talent, it is because they need more days off. That excuse never seems to fly at the office. Anyway, the most impressive part about Hill was his attitude. He went out with an injury in his non-pitching shoulder, pitched through pain, and proceeded to express his disappointment for walking the leadoff batter in the NINTH INNING. This guy wants to win, and Washington needs more pitchers with that attitude. Top drawer, excellent, first-rate, thoroughly capital.

Nice to see that in addition to Hill’s strong outing, Matt Chico was able to grab a win in a well pitched outing on Friday night against the Mets. Chico went into the 6th inning and gave up only 2 ER against the Mets. The 9 hits he gave up were a bit scary, but he got out of jams and allowed for the win. Even more surprising was Jerome Williams coming back from a 9 ER outing to shut the Mets out through 6 innings, giving up only one hit and (not suprisingly) walking 5. The Nationals couldn’t score much against Glavine and they ended up losing 6-2, but Cordero blew a save opportunity (it happens) and Williams got robbed of a win after a very good start. Unfortunately he was put on the DL after the game. It doesn’t seem too serious, but if he was gonna miss a start anyway, might as well make the roster move to have a bigger bullpen.

Finally, to finish the weekend series, Bergmann pitched exceptionally well again. Only giving up 3 walks and 2 hits, striking out 6. He fell victim to the team STILL not hitting with runners in scoring position. That will even out over the course of the season but it is rough to watch them leaving runners on over and over again. Zimmerman left 5 guys on, Church got up with the bases loaded and had a chance to break the game open, but couldn’t get it done. In fact, Saturday and Sunday, the Nats had 21 LOB. So for Bergmann, 7 IP, 1 ER, 6 Ks qualifies him for the hard luck loss of the week. Congrats for beating out Williams!

What if the Nats just don’t return their phone calls?

Something very important to look for in the coming week: both Guzman and Logan are coming off of the DL. Church has proved he can field pretty well in center, and he is hitting better than anyone else on the team with the highest average, most HRs and best slugging. Snelling isn’t hitting well, so it is not unreasonable to think Logan could hit similarly. Moving Church to left and sitting Snelling to make room for Logan would be preferable to sitting Church, but in terms of building a team for the future, Snelling has much higher potential than Logan, and has shown some flashes of power and patience, two things Logan has none of.

It is no secret how TNR feels about Guzman. The Belliard/Lopez combo has been fielding well, if not spectacularly, and Belliard, as pointed out last week, was hitting poorly. But he is up to batting .309/.343/.392. Still not great, but much better. And his hitting poorly is about what can best be expected from Guzman, and most likely better than anything that Guzman will do.

Aren’t we still missing the team’s best offensive player? Oh yeah…

According to Baseball Prospectus’ Under the Knife this week, Nick Johnson is doing better:

Nick Johnson is finally making some progress from last season’s horrendous leg injury. The Nats say he’s running and doing agility work, something that puts him on track for a June return. Sources tell me “it’s coming in leaps and bounds now,” and that “he’s actually ahead of schedule.”

Wonderful news. No matter how well Dmitri Young is hitting, getting that OBP and power back in the lineup is crucial to the Nats squeezing out some more victories. Put it this way, right now Young is the team’s third best offensive player, behind Church and Kearns, batting .250/.356/.443… last season Johnson hit .290/.428/.520. And speaking of Dmitri Young, didn’t we say something last week about possible trades? Oh well, Wil Carrol said the same thing. Since his article came out only 1 day after the Nationals Review post, we’ll assume he wasn’t copying us:

The nice start from Dmitri Young complicates things a bit. There’s really no need to rush Johnson, though getting him back is an obvious plus for the organization. June is actually about the time that the organization will be gearing up its trading machine, making the timing pretty convenient.

Hooray to the prescience of TNR for posting that last week. Makes us look smart. Later in the season when talking about possible free agent pitchers for the Nats to sign for ’08, you may notice some bitterness when discussing how great Buehrle could be. That’s because the part of post talking about Buehrle was already written before the no-hitter and it won’t be posted for quite a while, making TNR look like a bandwagon jumper rather than foresighted geniuses. Wait weren’t we talking about Nick Johnson? Oh yeah, it’s nice to hear that Nick’s getting better and we wish him a speedy recovery for his own sake, and a speedy entrance back into the lineup for the Nats sake.

And finally

On a personal note, I was at a baseball game on Sunday afternoon and was shocked to hear, when we thought we were all standing up to hear the national anthem, that we were first to have a moment of silence to mourn the death of Josh Hancock. There were several audible gasps in the crowd when it was announced he had died in a car accident that morning, at the age of 29. It seemed nobody in the crowd, myself included, had heard the news yet. My heart goes out to his family and to the Cardinals family, especially guys like Isringhausen, Rolen, Pujols and Edmonds, who have had the unfortunate distinction of dealing with the unexpected losses of two teammates in 5 years.

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