Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nats Find a Stopper, Still Seek a Closer -- Shawn Hill had a great outing this afternoon, for the Nationals. In Philadelphia, Hill took a shutout into the 8th. His crisp sinker was causing the Phillies to beat ball after ball into the ground. In the eighth, Hill surrendered a home run to Aaron Rowand, but rebounded to close out the inning, with the Nats holding a 4-1 lead. When Hill opened the 9th inning by walking Shane Victorino, Manny Acta made the call to the bullpen, to bring in the Nats' putative "closer."

Chad Cordero gave up a big blast by Chase Utley, that carried all the way to the wall in straight-away center, where it fell into Ryan Church's glove, a couple of feet shy of a home run. The next batter, Ryan Howard hit a smash down the right-field line, eluding Robert Fick, for a double. Two batters up, and both had hit Cordero very hard...and the tying run was coming to bat. Nervous moments for the Nats. Even the next batter, Pat Burrell, hit the ball hard, sending Austin Kearns back to the warning track, and scoring Victorino on the sacrifice fly.

With two outs, Cordero finally pitched like a closer, which is his pattern. He does dial it up, once he's gotten the second out, but sometimes that's too late. This afternoon, it was just in time. Cordero blew the third strike past Wes Helms, to earn the save.

Every team goes through stretches where they lose two, three, even four in a row. Winning teams have that one pitcher, who stops the skid almost every time -- a "stopper." Shawn Hill has shown he is that pitcher for the Nationals. Five starts for Hill, and there hasn't been a bad one yet. The last four have been masterful. With Chico, Williams and Patterson pitching poorly, Hill may have a lot of opportunities to show off his "stopper" stuff.

So, today's game raised two questions. Shawn Hill answered the first one. Nats fans can say the team finally has its ace -- a true stopper. The other question, still open, is whether Cordero can be counted on to be the team's true closer. Acta thinks the game is "a good sign that 'Chief' is bouncing back for us." Stay tuned.

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