Notes: Shell impresses in rare start

Notes: Shell impresses in rare start

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- On their depth chart, the Nationals consider right-hander Steven Shell a long reliever, but he started against the Astros on Sunday and was solid in an 8-3 victory.

After having a shaky first inning, in which he gave up a run, Shell settled down and was able to retire six out of the next eight batters he faced. Shell admitted that he was nervous when the first inning started.

"I thought I threw better in the second and third innings," Shell said. "The first inning, I was so excited to get out there and throw, I was overthrowing a little bit. I made one mistake in that inning, but my nerves settled down after that. The guys made some great plays behind me. I just trusted my defense."

According to manager Manny Acta, the Nationals' position players were impressed by the way Shell threw his breaking balls for strikes.

"He threw some nasty breaking balls. Even some of our position players were wondering about him," Acta said. "He does have good stuff, so we are going to take a look at him."

Shell said he is willing to do anything to be on the 25-man roster. He is a starter by trade, but is willing to be a reliever.

"I signed as a starter, but I will do whatever it takes for me to make the big league team. If it's a reliever or a starter, it doesn't matter to me," Shell said. "They had me on the board to relieve and they came up to me and I ended up starting this game, which is good."

On the mound: According to Acta, people in the organization believe that left-hander Mike O'Connor has recovered from his elbow problems based on how well he threw the ball during his bullpen and live batting-practice sessions.

O'Connor appeared in his first game of the spring and gave up one run in 2 2/3 innings. He struck out three and walked one.

"I thought I threw pretty good," O'Connor said. "I would have liked to have thrown a couple of more strikes early in the count. I try to throw to the catcher and not worry about all the other stuff that is going on."

Spring Training
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Pitching, pitching, pitching: The Nationals would like to get another starter for the rotation, but don't look for them to go after free agents Kyle Lohse or Jeff Weaver. Their agent, Scott Boras, is asking for more than Washington is willing to pay for their services. The only way the Nationals would sign those players is if they accept Minor League deals.

The Nationals will not even consider a pitcher like Ramon Ortiz, who is healthy, but inconsistent on the mound. Ortiz played for the Nationals in 2006 and went 11-16 with a 5.57 ERA.

Shawn on the Hill: General manager Jim Bowden doesn't believe that Shawn Hill's forearm injury is serious because the MRI exam he underwent didn't find anything abnormal. The team, however, will have Hill seek a second opinion at Duke University this week.

"The nerve has already been transposed, the ligament has been replaced. There is no medical reason to think that it's anything more than tendinitis," Bowden said.

The bats: The Nationals gave a glimpse of how explosive their offense can be on Sunday. In their 8-3 victory over the Astros, Lastings Milledge went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, while Ryan Zimmerman, Wily Mo Pena and Ronnie Belliard homered.

"[They are] explosive with ... their bats, their speed and athleticism," Acta said. "That was a good glimpse today, and not all of the [regular] players were [in the game]."

This and that: In a split-squad game in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the Orioles edged the Nationals, 11-10. Elijah Dukes went 1-for 3, while Bret Boone went 1-for-1 and was hit by a pitch. ... Nick Johnson played his third game of the spring and went 0-for-3 as a designated hitter against the Astros.

Coming up: The Nationals return to Space Coast Stadium as they take on the Cardinals on Monday afternoon. Game time is at 1:05 p.m. ET. Washington right-hander Tim Redding will face St. Louis right-hander Braden Looper.

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