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ANOTHER HILL TO CLIMB

[August 12th] -- A quick check of my favorite Nationals' watering holes on the internet indicates that Tuesday night's game against the Phillies has a whole lot of people pumped and excited.

Seems the second coming of Cy Young returns from the disabled list.

At least, that's what I've been reading.

Manny Acta said yesterday that Hill, 26, has nothing to prove, that regardless of how good (or bad) Hill pitches during the remaining one-and-a-half months of the year, he will be the team's "ace" heading into 2008 and the new stadium.

Now wait a minute. Didn't we say the same thing about John Patterson during spring training?

I have grown weary of hitching my star to players who can't stay healthy. He very well may be the Nationals' best pitcher, but what does that say about the team's chances over the next few years? Hill was a 6th round selection in the 2000 draft, and pitched very well during his years in the minors, going 35-28, 3.08 in 95 starts. That said, it took him six years to reach a major league team bereft of any real pitching talent. And when he finally made it to "the show," he has developed arm and elbow problems. 2007 is the third year that Hill has missed significant time.

Why then, should we count on Hill to be anything other than a pleasant surprise come 2008? Look what happened when the Nationals counted on Patterson this year. Disaster.

No, assume the worst and hope for the best for Hill, and for John Patterson. Jim Bowden should craft together a solid starting rotation without our two injured starters. If they are ready, if they can pitch, then the Nationals will have an embarrassment of riches. If they can't answer the bell, then, in basketball vernacular, "no harm, no foul."

Another worry. Remember how Manny Acta said that Hill was the team's "ace," by far and away the best pitcher on the team? Well, TSN (and other scouting services) lists Hill as a "decent mid to late rotation" starter. That means that are ace would be buried on most other team's rotations.

If that is indeed true, then the Nats might be better served spending some of that $30 million pot of money set aside for free agents on another pitcher.

One that won't break down every year.


Comments:
I was at RFK for Hill's start last night. It was amazing. But for one error and one should-have-been caught, he would have had a no hitter through 6 and been one BB from perfect against one of the league's more powerful lineups.

This is why the Nats will stay with Hill and probably Patterson till the bitter end, just like the Cubs have with Pryor and Wood. Starters capable of shutdown performances on a regular basis are few and far between, and as of right now Hill and Patterson when healthy are the only two the Nats know they have.

And as for free agents, just ask Giants fans how thrilled they are with their recent $100 million pitching acquisition.
 
No question; free agents are a gamble. That said, I'd never suggest buying an $18 million dollar pitcher (unless his name was Santana).

However, $14-15 million for Adam Dunn makes a lot of sense. Another $7 million for a veteran arm who can play .500 ball from the #5 spot in the rotation should bring a needed veteran presence to a very young staff.
 
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