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Washington Nationals player hit by shotgun pellet during hunting trip

Ayala Expects to Recover from Hunting Injury

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 5, 2008; E14

Washington Nationals reliever Luis Ayala was accidentally hit in the upper left forearm by a shotgun pellet during a holiday hunting trip, the club and Ayala's agent said yesterday. Though the pellet is still lodged in his arm, doctors believe Ayala will be ready for spring training.

"He's very lucky," Joe Longo, Ayala's agent, said yesterday by phone. "The doctors told him, 'Luis, a couple inches difference, and we would have had trouble.' "

Longo said Ayala and some friends were hunting Dec. 26 in the right-hander's home town of Los Mochis, Mexico. The accident, according to Longo, occurred when the gun of one of Ayala's companions went off as the group was taking a break.

Ayala, who turns 30 next week, notified the Nationals and then traveled to Los Angeles to see noted orthopedist Lewis Yocum, who performed ligament replacement surgery on Ayala in 2006. Yocum and Steven Shin, an upper extremity specialist, elected to leave the pellet in Ayala's arm.

"That's what they typically do," Longo said. "I guess it's more trouble than it's worth to take it out. They can do that later on. Now, he just needs to get through the trauma."

Ayala had a follow-up appointment Thursday, and Shin said he should be ready for spring training. Ayala, who missed all of 2006 after the elbow surgery, went 2-2 with a 3.19 ERA in 44 appearances in 2007 and will be counted on to be a key setup man in the upcoming season.

But Longo had one message for his client.

"I said, 'Luis, that's it. No more hunting,' " Longo said.

Hill Healing

The moment is roughly three months away, but right-hander Shawn Hill -- surgical procedures on each arm more recent than his last pitch -- can't help but think of the possibility. Someone will get to throw the first pitch when Nationals Park opens March 30.

"I would love to be the one," Hill said yesterday by phone. "If you had asked me before last spring training, I would have said there would be absolutely no shot. But now? If everything goes well, you could say there's a legitimate chance. That's where half the excitement comes from."

Hill, 26, has other reasons to be excited. Yesterday, he threw off a mound -- a "nice, light" session, he said -- for the first time since he underwent surgery in October -- first on his right elbow to deal with a nerve problem, then on his balky left shoulder.

"With the shoulder, I've still got a little bit to go," he said. "I've got to get more of my range of motion back, and the strength back, but with the time between now and spring training and then the time between when spring training starts and the season, I should be back. I think I'll be 100 percent."

Hill was limited to 16 major league starts in 2007. He first hurt his shoulder in April, which he believes affected his mechanics. He went 4-5 with a 3.42 ERA and showed the ability to be the Nationals' best starter -- if he can stay healthy. The only problem with his pitching elbow, he said, was itching of the scar left over from surgery.

Hill said he initially could be limited swinging the bat and taking fielding drills when spring training starts next month. But after that, "it should be a pretty natural progression."

"Thinking about that stadium," he said, "I want to be ready."

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