Thursday, August 23, 2007

Their Little league coaches must be bursting with pride

For the first time in seven years two Canadian starting pitchers will duel on the mound in Major League Baseball.

Shawn Hill, formerly of Georgetown, Ontario and now a member of the Washington Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos) will face fellow Canuck Jeff Francis an ace pitcher with the Colorado Rockies who hails from North Delta BC.

The all Canada showdown takes place on Friday night at Coors Field in Denver.

The last time two Canadians met on the mound was a Canada Day showdown in 2000, when Gibson BC's Ryan Dempster earned bragging rights over Mike Johnson of Edmonton.

For the two modern day hurlers Friday night probably sees the edge going to Francis who will have the home field advantage. Coors field is described as a "hitters" ballpark, meaning that Hill will have to throw a very select game to avoid having the Rockies hitters launch some balls in the thin Colorado air.

Canadian pitchers set for rare meeting
Canadian Press
August 23, 2007 at 6:09 PM EDT

Shawn Hill says he will be more concerned with getting the Colorado Rockies batters out than with taking part in a rare matchup Canadian starters.

The Washington Nationals right-hander from Georgetown, Ont., is to face Rockies ace Jeff Francis on Friday night in Denver in the first all-Canadian pitching matchup in the major leagues in seven years.

"It's kind of neat," Hill said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "Maybe after some time we can sit down and talk about it, but considering their line-up, I have enough to worry about without thinking about how neat it is."

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it will be the first time two Canadian starters have clashed since Ryan Dempster of Gibsons, B.C., got the better of Mike Johnson of Edmonton as the Florida Marlins beat the defunct Expos 6-5 in Montreal on July 1, 2000.

Hill said he has pitched against East York, Ont., native Russell Martin of the Los Angeles Dodgers but has never faced a fellow Canadian on the mound in the major leagues.

He met Francis two years ago at a Baseball Canada banquet and they chatted for 15 minutes, but otherwise their relationship has been restricted to saying hello when their teams play each other.

Francis is 13-7 with a 4.38 earned-run average in 26 starts this season. The six-foot-five left-hander from North Delta, B.C., bounced back from a dreadful start Aug. 14 — when he gave up eight runs in 3 1-3 innings in San Diego — with six strong innings in Los Angeles.

Hill is 3-3 with a 2.43 ERA. He recently returned from an injury rehab stint with triple-A Columbus after going down on May 11 with a sore elbow and a strained left shoulder.
The right-hander is coming off a solid start Sunday against the New York Mets in which he gave up two runs in seven innings.

"I was rushing a bit, but overall I felt pretty good," he said.

It will be his first time pitching at Coors Field, a notorious hitter's park, and he will be up against one of the best hitting clubs in the National League. Four Rockies — Matt Holliday, Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki and Brad Hawpe — were hitting .290 or better going into Thursday night's games. Holliday was hitting .335 with 22 home runs and 97 runs batted-in.

"If I keep the ball down I should be OK," said Hill.

Both starters are 26.

Francis became the second-highest Canadian ever taken in the baseball draft, ninth overall by Colorado in 2002. He is in his fourth major-league season.

Hill was drafted in 2000 by the Expos and debuted in Montreal in 2004 before moving with the franchise to Washington. He started and won the final Montreal-Toronto interleague matchup, a 6-4 Expos victory over the Blue Jays on July 4, 2004 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

His first taste of major-league ball came with the Expos on their last legs, playing in a near-empty Olympic Stadium for an underfunded team struggling with ownership woes.

"It had to happen," he said of the Expos' move in 2005. "Part of me wishes they were still there.
"I still have family there. Most of my family was born in Montreal. But now, it has definitely worked out for the better."

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