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  Mon, June 28, 2004


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Local kid hits big league
Rookie Shawn Hill latest Canadian to reach the Majors
By BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

There were 25,915 fans at the SkyDome yesterday, or 25,870 if you don't count the Hill clan.

Montreal Expos righty Shawn Hill of Georgetown had 45 relatives and fans to see him.

They didn't see him pitch. They didn't see Pat Hentgen pitch either for that matter, as Hentgen allowed five walks and three hits in 1 2/3 innings in a 9-4 loss to the Expos.

Hill has now been in the majors for six games and has yet to get on the mound, save for two bullpen sessions.

"He's not pitching today, I have my reasons," Expo manager Frank Robinson said before yesterday's 9-4 Expo win.

One reason might be the status of Tony Armas, scheduled starter for the Expos' game in Philadelphia tomorrow.

"Armas is day-to-day," Tony Siegle, Expos assistant general manager, said.

Armas pitched six scoreless last Thursday in a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, for his first win in a year after shoulder surgery.

JUMP FROM DOUBLE-A

Like Jimmy Key and like Adam Peterson, Hill, 23, made the jump to the majors from double-A. "Frank has to ease (Hill) into the water," Siegle said.

Hill was with the Harrisburg Senators at Akron when told he had been promoted to Montreal a week ago, replacing righty Jeremy Fikac.

Hill drove to Harrisburg and flew to Montreal. There was speculation Hill, who has been a starter his whole career, would start Friday against the Jays, but Scott Downs was recalled.

In 14 games at Harrisburg, Hill was 5-6 with a 2.87 earned run average, sixth best in the Eastern League. He had walked 20 and struck out 49 in 78 1/3 innings.

Pitching at SkyDome would have been a perfect homecoming for Hill, who grew up in Mississauga listening to broadcasters Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth as a Jays fan. He once got an autograph from then Jays outfielder Rob Ducey, now the hitting coach at Harrisburg.

Until 1995, Hill played for the Streetsville Tigers, when at age 14, he and his family --mother Heather, father Rick and sister April -- moved to Georgetown.

Hill left the Georgetown sandlots to play for Bob Smyth's Ontario Blue Jays 16s in 1997-98 and was converted to a pitcher. In 1999, he pitched for the Etobicoke Rangers. Tim Harkness, a scout with the San Diego Padres, made Hill a 33rd-round choice of the San Diego Padres that June.

Bothered by a micro tear in his right elbow, Hill returned to high school and "popped," as scouts like to say, at a February indoor workout in Etobicoke, throwing a "free-and-easy" 88 mp.h. on the radar guns.

Expos scout Alex Agostino took Hill in the sixth round in in 2000 and gave him a $115,000 US bonus, comparing him to Ryan Dempster.

In November, thanks to three solid outings -- 11 2/3 innings, seven strikeouts, six earned runs -- Hill helped Canada qualify for the Olympics this summer in Greece.

"I want to stay (with the Expos), but I want to go (to Greece), who knows what will happen? I'm in a fragile situation here," Hill said. "If I get sent down, I hope it's before July 31 and not say Aug. 2."

The deadline for Canada to name its final roster for the Olympics is July 31. Players in the minors, as long as the clubs give permission, can play for Team Canada.

Hill was supposed to start, along with Jeff Francis (11-1 with the double-A Tulsa Drillers) and Mike Johnson (5-3, 5.61 with the triple-A Edmonton Trappers).

"He throws strikes, has a good sinker and slider, and doesn't get excited. He was one of our final cuts in the spring," Expos coach Claude Raymond said. "I think he'll miss the Olympics."