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Hill Released, Beimel Signed [Updated]

Unwilling to count on the health of Shawn Hill, the Washington Nationals today released one of their most promising, troubled pitchers. Unwilling to enter the season with an assembly line of unproven bullpen pitchers, the Nationals signed free agent left-hander Joe Beimel to a one-year, $2.0 million deal.

With those transactions, over the course of several hours today, the Nationals created a clash of emotions -- dejection, as they cut ties with one of their most respected players, and relief, as they strengthened the most worrisome part of their club.

Manager Manny Acta called Hill's release "probably the toughest decision I've had to make since I've been here." He said he was "thrilled" with the signing of Beimel, whom he immediately anointed as the team's eighth-inning set-up man.

Hill, 27, had spent the previous three years in constant comeback mode, trying to recover from, at varying points, a shoulder injury, elbow problems, and forearm tightness. Through all of it, the Nationals stuck with the right-handed sinkerballer, drafted in 2000, back when the organization was in Montreal. Always, the Nationals spoke of Hill's potential, his ability -- if healthy -- to anchor a rotation. Assistant General Manager Mike Rizzo grew tired of waiting, even though Hill, in an exhibition start on Monday, threw one scoreless inning and looked healthy.

"Well, you can only go by what you know and the track record of the player," Rizzo said. "We thought the uncertainty of what he's going to bring to us on a daily basis was really the factor behind us releasing him. He's healthy for now, yes, but we don't know how long that is going to be for. And that affects how we plan not only for this season but for the future also."

The decision's timing was largely based on money. Hill, set to earn $775,000 this year, will now get only a sixth of that, or roughly $130,000. Today was the deadline to allow such a fractional payment.

According to several, Hill was devastated by the news. Hill was summoned to Space Coast Stadium in the morning, before his teammates arrived for tonight's game. He met with Acta, who informed him. Hours later, his locker was empty.

"I personally was very shocked," teammate Jason Bergmann said. "I didn't understand it at first. I came in, didn't see his nametag on the locker and thought somebody was playing a joke on him... He lives right down the street, and I think it's gotta be hard to drive past the stadium knowing he's not a National anymore."

Only by coincidence did Hill's release coincide with Beimel's signing. For almost a month, Rizzo said, the team had targeted Beimel. Over the last four years, Beimel has been one of the game's most effective relief pitchers. Last year, his third with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Beimel had a 2.02 ERA in 71 games -- 49 innings. Equally capable against lefties and righties, Beimel will inherit the eighth inning job that, previously, had been one of Washington's biggest question marks.

Beimel, who will wear No. 97, is expected to arrive in Viera, Fla., tomorrow and undergo a physical.

"He really gives us balance and experience in the bullpen," Rizzo said. "He pitched extremely well the last three or four years with the Dodgers, and with the Pirates. He was a guy that our scouts really liked -- his aggressiveness on the mound. He holds runners great. He fields his position well."

With Hill, the ability was almost always speculative. Since his debut in 2004, he'd won only seven games with a lifetime 4.93 ERA. He never started more than 16 games in a season, and joked even last week that he sees orthopedist James Andrews' secretaries often enough to carry ongoing conversations.

In glimpses, though, Hill convinced the Nationals that he deserved faith, and a spot in their rotation. After his one inning on Monday, which included two strikeouts, Hill said his arm felt terrific. The team scheduled him to start Friday against Detroit, likely going two innings.

Today, the Nationals re-ordered that plan, listing Collin Balester and Gustavo Chacin as potential starters.

From among that group, Washington will try to fill the back end of its rotation. Top prospect Jordan Zimmermann, 22, has pitched 12-1/3 innings this spring; he has yet to allow a run, and he has yet to give the team one reason not to place him on the staff. The final job -- assuming John Lannan, Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera are locks -- will go to Balester, Chacin, or 21-year-old Shairon Martis. That, or Rizzo will find a way to parlay the surplus of outfielders into another starter.

This is the second spring in a row in which Washington released one of its top starters. Last March, the team released oft-injured John Patterson, whose decreased velocity augured lingering problems. Patterson is now retired. One scout who saw Hill pitch earlier this week, though, described him as the "Hill of old."

"He looked like he was healthy," Rizzo said. "But again, healthy after this time, yes. But with the track record, we just didn't know when and how long we could count on him being healthy, so that's how the decision was made."

By Chico Harlan  |  March 18, 2009; 5:45 PM ET
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The Rizzo Era has begun. I hope he is right. I would have stuck with him a little longer, giving him some rehab starts in the minors while being on the DL to start the season. But it's not my money, and they already have a lot of dead money still laying around, WMP, Da'Meat, Kearns...

Posted by: psubman | March 18, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Really, I don't understand why they just couldn't to release Hill after his next injury. Why now when things are looking up?

Posted by: cmecyclist | March 18, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

So basically, we weren't willing to risk $645K on him being healthy? Wonder if we'd have made the same decision if he hadn't gone to arbitration or had lost at arbitration.

How close is $645K to the final difference between our offer and Crow's last offer?

Still head scratching over where we decide to draw the lines financially. So much money out the door for failed retreads (RMack, PLod, Estrada) yet we tighten up on a Crow and now Hill for far less green.

Posted by: ArlingtonNatsFan | March 18, 2009 6:00 PM | Report abuse

I understand your sentiment regarding Mackowiak, etc but the difference there is their contracts were guaranteed. Nats would not have saved anything if they were cut one day sooner ... unless that was one day before they signed ;)

Posted by: Brian_ | March 18, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

My guess is that Dr. Andrews had a pretty glim view of the future for Shawn (unfortunately). This only makes sense if our Nationals really have more negative medical prognostics than they lead to everyone to believe. I wish Mr. Hill the best.


Posted by: NatsandSkinsareclassclassclass | March 18, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Shawn! Shawn! Come back!

.....'bye, Shawn?

Posted by: fischy | March 18, 2009 6:18 PM | Report abuse

got new posted

By signing Beimel, I think most of the STI's in the bullpen (Glover, Ledezma, & Wagner) just got booted to the curb. Colome still has three weeks to re-make the team, and Tavarez isn't exactly a "lock" either, but might make it as a LR.

Otherwise, the team could go north with six one-inning guys (Beimel, Bergmann, Hinckley or Mock, Rivera, Shell, T.Young) & a closer (Hanrahan).

Posted by: BinM | March 18, 2009 6:10 PM

Posted by: BinM | March 18, 2009 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Only by coincidence did Hill's release coincide with Beimel's signing. For almost a month, Rizzo said, the team had targeted Beimel.
By Chico Harlan | March 18, 2009; 5:45 PM ET

"Allow myself to introduce... myself..."

j/k, Chico. Great pull on the story, too bad it happened hours after Chico posted his roster prediction, which he waited until today to see how Hill's most recent start fared.

I'm sure Hill will catch on somewhere else on a minor league contract, which would be a potential steal given his potential...

Posted by: -CN- | March 18, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Isn't it too early to give up on him?

Posted by: rachel216 | March 18, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Hey I was right about something....Hill will make 0 starts this year.

I understand D Young is not on 40 man....I just hate sitting here watching him in the Dugout with no intention of moving his ass for that $10 Million Jimbo wasted on him...Out of sight out of mind...cut him please....Oh I have my Laptop and free wireless again so I will be watching Milledge....hope you all do too.....

Posted by: JayBeee | March 18, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Wait a minute - He had 71 appearances, but only 49IP in 2008, but the team is annointing him as the 8th-inning setup pitcher? WHAT?

He was a LOOGY with the LAD - He'll be a LOOGY (& maybe a little more) here, but please don't re-start the JimBow "hype engine".

Posted by: BinM | March 18, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Beimel's a good pickup. Got good stuff. Dependable. Throws strikes. Tight delivery.

Posted by: Brue | March 18, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse


I don't doubt his value for a moment - I just wonder if he's capable of throwing the 2IP a week that Manny looks for from his BP pitchers.

Posted by: BinM | March 18, 2009 6:37 PM | Report abuse

I read the news and had 3 thoughts:
1)whoa (we cut Hill)
2)WHOA! (we signed Beimel)
3)Will we give Beimel a chance to close? He's probably our best reliever, so why is he assumed the 8th role instead of competing to close?

Posted by: cheeseburger53 | March 18, 2009 6:37 PM | Report abuse

The Hill move show me that Rizzo intends to keep this role and get the GM job. He is going for a Win now team. I bet we see some more moves soon.......bye bye Lastings...Dukes will be in CF soon.

Posted by: JayBeee | March 18, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Man this beer tasts good.....Milledge seems to have gotten the word that pre game stretch is not an option.....$10 Fosters Oil Can....$4 big hot dog....all good.

Posted by: JayBeee | March 18, 2009 6:50 PM | Report abuse

>Man this beer tasts good.....Milledge seems to have gotten the word that pre game stretch is not an option.....$10 Fosters Oil Can....$4 big hot dog....all good

I'm jealous. Bad.
I should go down this weekend, see mums down in Boynton Beach since I have Mondays off. She's a fan too, used to keep score at Griffith Stadium growing up>

Posted by: Brue | March 18, 2009 6:55 PM | Report abuse

You're a mellower guy with a big brew and a dog, JayBeee. Now if you can keep up the pace and wear a pair of Tavares's beer goggles when Milledge takes the field we'll really be getting somewhere.

Enjoy the game, wish I were there!


Posted by: utec | March 18, 2009 6:58 PM | Report abuse

New posts up.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 18, 2009 7:00 PM | Report abuse

News slogan should be:

Washington Nationals- where pitchers' arms go to die

Posted by: bubbad | March 18, 2009 8:34 PM | Report abuse

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