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Notes: Hill turns in 'tremendous' outing

Notes: Hill turns in 'tremendous' outing

VIERA, Fla -- Nationals right-hander Shawn Hill had his best outing of the spring, giving up a run in four innings against a formidable Mets lineup at Space Coast Stadium on Monday afternoon.

But Hill didn't think he was at his best on the mound. He said he had problems with his control, even though he didn't walk a batter. He threw 56 pitches, 34 of them for strikes.

"I didn't walk anybody, but my command wasn't what I would like it to be," Hill said. "I was struggling to throw quality strikes over the plate. The first couple of innings, it wasn't too bad, but in the fourth, I really got ahead of myself."

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Although Hill didn't think he had the greatest of outings, manager Manny Acta didn't have complaints about what he saw from his right-hander. Acta just wants to make sure that Hill is healthy. Hill hasn't played a full season since the 2003 because of right elbow reconstruction surgery.

"I thought he did a tremendous job. I hope he can get those results during the season without having his command," Acta said. "He gave us a real chance to stay in the game against the great lineup the Mets have. We never had any doubts about Shawn Hill. It's just a matter of staying healthy."

Hill clearly has been the best starter on the Nationals this spring, giving up two runs in nine innings. However, don't think for a minute that Hill feels secure about being in the starting rotation.

"I'm in a good position and it's gotten better each time out, I think," Hill said. "But I have three, maybe four, outings left. So if I don't throw well those three outings and people catch on fire, I'm quickly forgotten about. Until March 28, when we head north, I'm not feeling too secure."

Injury report: Hill has experienced tightness in his right forearm before his first start of the exhibition season, but he says it's nothing serious. He hopes to be 100 percent by his next outing.

"It has been getting better over the past week," Hill said. "It's a little bit of muscle tightness. Nothing big."

Reliever Luis Ayala doesn't appear to be close to getting into an exhibition game. There are days when Ayala's arm feels good on the mound and there are times when he feels uncomfortable. Ayala hasn't pitched in a game since September 2005 because of elbow reconstruction surgery.

"He is not progressing the way he probably thought he would," Acta said. "He threw well in a simulated game on Monday. It's just that it has been inconsistent on how he feels from day to day. He feels he needs a little more power [in his throws]. We still have three weeks to go."

If Ayala doesn't make the Opening Day roster, Acta most likely will not carry 12 pitchers.

Shortstop Cristian Guzman, who missed all of 2006 because of shoulder problems, will play in the field in an exhibition game for the first time against the Cardinals on Wednesday. He will play five innings.

Surprising development: Acta announced that left-hander Billy Traber is no longer in the mix to be a starter. The team considers him as a middle man and a left-handed specialist. In the games he has appeared this spring, Traber has been a long man or a middle-inning guy.

Coming from nowhere: Outfielder Abraham Nunez, a non-roster invitee, is a long shot to make the 25-man roster, but he is making it difficult for the Nationals. Through Monday, Nunez is 5-for-16 (.312) with two home runs and three RBIs.

"He is impressing a lot of people and I've been a fan of his," Acta said. "He brings a lot to the table. He is a switch-hitter with power, speed and good arm. He can play the three outfield positions. It's an uphill battle. He is pushing the issue, which is good."

Change of plans: John Patterson will not pitch in the accelerated intrasquad game on Tuesday. He will have the day off, like the rest of the Major League squad. Patterson said he is healthy and getting stronger. While he has pitched just one exhibition game, he has been throwing in the accelerated intrasquad games.

Patterson will continue to have bullpen sessions and will not pitch in an exhibition until Sunday against the Marlins.

"John is not trying to make this team," Acta said. "We would rather see some [other pitchers] than John. He is on target. He is fine."

Coming up: The Nationals have the day off on Tuesday, but they travel to Jupiter, Fla., on Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. ET to face the Cardinals for the first time this spring. Right-hander Jason Simontacchi will make his third start of the spring for Washington, while right-hander Anthony Reyes goes for St. Louis.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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