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03/18/09 6:35 PM ET

Nationals release righty Hill

Balester, Martis and Zimmermann compete for rotation spots

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals put right-hander Shawn Hill on waivers Wednesday for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release. Hill will earn one-sixth of the $775,000 he was slated to receive this season.

The Nationals decided to make this move because of the uncertainty of Hill's health. Hill has yet to play a full season in the big leagues because of elbow and forearm problems.

Manager Manny Acta broke the news to Hill on Wednesday morning at about 11:30 a.m. ET at Space Coast Stadium. Hill took the news badly and had tears in his eyes. Hill was scheduled to pitch on short rest against the Tigers on Friday, but right-hander Collin Balester will get the nod instead.

Acta sounded like he didn't want to make the move. He pointed out that it was an organizational decision.

"It was probably the toughest decision I ever had to make since I've been here, because we go way back since the Montreal days," Acta said. "He is the type of guy every manager wish to have. It was a baseball decision. We are moving on with our plan. There was a lot of uncertainty. It was really a tough day.

"Shawn has been here his whole life. This is where he wants to be. It wasn't easy for him or for me. He'll be fine. He is going to move on."

Hill, 27, pitched only two games this spring because of forearm tightness. He returned to action Tuesday and pitched one shutout inning against the Marlins without any problems with his forearm.

"I have to hope that it stays this way -- [there was] no discomfort at all today," Hill said Monday. "Will it be perfectly fine tomorrow? I don't know. But right now, I'm not too concern about it. This is the first time since early 2007 or '06 that I didn't have any significant discomfort. That's why it's kind of nice."

Assistant general manager Mike Rizzo acknowledged that Hill is healthy, but didn't know if Hill would break down again.

"It's hard to pencil him into the rotation every fifth day when you are not sure what he has when he gets to the ballpark," Rizzo said. "You can only go by what you know on your track record of the player.

"We thought the uncertainty of what he is gong to bring to us on a daily basis was really a factor behind us releasing him today. He is healthy for now, yes. But we don't know how long that is going to be. That affects how we plan not only for the short term for this season, but for the future."

Right-hander Jason Bergmann was shocked when he heard about Hill's departure. Bergmann thought someone was playing a joke on Hill.

"When he is healthy, Shawn is one of the best pitchers I've ever seen," Bergmann said. "He has tremendous stuff, and he has a great work ethic, too. It's not easy battling those injuries. He continued to come back and showed that he still had what it took to be a Major League pitcher."

Hill was drafted by the Expos in the sixth round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft. Hill opened eyes in 2004 when he struck out Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols looking in an exhibition game.

However, it went downhill after that. He appeared in only 37 games the last five seasons because of elbow and forearm problems.

With Hill off the team, Balester, Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmermann will battle for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation.

"We have candidates in-house that could handle the five rotation spots," Rizzo said. "I think we have some inventory down in the Minor Leagues that we could use when we need it. I'm comfortable with our young starters."

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