03/25/09 4:40 PM ET
Hill says Padres offered best chance
Starter hopes to make roster after disappointment with Nats
By Corey Brock / MLB.com
One offer stood out the most, though it wasn't because it was the best offer financially or for the highest profile team. One offer was perfect for the oft-injured 27-year-old, desperate to prove he can stay healthy, that he can pitch.
"For me, it was the opportunity to pitch at the big league level as soon as possible so that I could reestablish myself," Hill said on why he picked the Padres. "There were a couple of good opportunities here."
Plenty, as it stands.
The Padres, who have been scouring the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues for pitching help of all sorts this month, signed Hill to a Minor League contract on Monday that will be worth $500,000 if he makes the team.
That former teammate Chris Young, a roommate when both were members of the Expos organization, helped recruit Hill to San Diego didn't hurt either, as Young put in a good word with general manager Kevin Towers and manager Bud Black.
Hill never expected to be here in Arizona, though he wasn't entirely surprised last week when the Nationals released him. By dumping Hill when they did, the Nationals are only responsible for about $125,000 of the $750,000 salary he was awarded through arbitration.
"The timing surprised me. ... I knew going into camp, if I wasn't healthy or not throwing well, it was a possibility," Hill said. "The timing of it was a little odd ... and I think a lot of people were upset by that. It is what it is."
Hill has been beset by injuries since 2004 when Dr. James Andrews performed elbow ligament replacement surgery on him. Three years later, he had surgery to decompress the radial nerve in his right forearm as well as to clear out scar tissue in the elbow. He had another procedure a year ago to clean out more scar tissue.
But it was an injury he suffered to his left, non-throwing shoulder in 2007 -- against the Padres no less -- that really troubled Hill. The injury occurred while Hill was caught in a rundown in Florida. He later aggravated the injury against the Padres while reaching for a throw while covering first base.
The injury caused his front shoulder to feel increasingly weak, which messed with his mechanics and caused him problems, derailing what had been a promising season after he went 4-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 16 starts for the Nationals.
"You talk to people in and around the game, and they say his stuff definitely plays ... it's good stuff," Black said. "He's just had an unfortunate run of injuries with his elbow. But hopefully, we're getting him at a time where he can stay active and pitch."
Hill threw on the side on Wednesday and will make his Padres debut on Friday following Jake Peavy in a 7:05 p.m. PT game in Phoenix against the Oakland A's. Hill said his goal is to be up to four innings by the time the team leaves Peoria on April 2.
That might put him more in the bullpen mix initially than the rotation, if he does make the 25-man roster.
"It might be a little unlikely he can help us as a starting pitcher [initially]. In the bullpen ... possibly," Black said.
As for his current state of health, Hill said on Wednesday that his arm and elbow are fine.
"I've definitely turned a corner. I don't know if I'm in the clear yet or 100 percent. The last time I threw was [March 16] and it was the best I've felt since 2006, early 2007. I know I'm in a much better situation now with my arm than ever."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.