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NYM@WSH: Hernandez acknowledges the fans with hat tip

WASHINGTON -- Nationals right-hander Livan Hernandez pitched his last game as a starter this season and took the loss as the Mets won, 6-3, at Nationals Park on Sunday afternoon.

On Friday, Nationals manager Davey Johnson informed Hernandez that Sunday would be his last game as a starter in 2011.

The team wants to see how well some of its young pitchers, like right-hander Stephen Strasburg and left-hander Tom Milone, perform in the rotation.

Hernandez, 36, took the news well. Johnson wants the veteran righty to stick with the team for the rest of the season and become a mentor/coach. Hernandez agreed to his new role. He will also pinch-hit, but will not work as a reliever. Hernandez, who is a free agent after the season, is hoping to re-sign with Washington as a long reliever.

Hernandez is ready to tell the young players that performing in the big leagues is not easy, but will teach them how to be successful on the mound.

"You have to be smart [when you pitch] at this level," Hernandez said. "The most important thing is not make too many mistakes. At this level, the hitters will hit your mistakes. You have to work hard ... and try to get better every day. That's the only way you can be good and get better."

Right-hander Tyler Clippard said young pitchers can take a lot of notes by watching Hernandez teach the game.

"His durability, his demeanor, the way he has fun -- he has meant a lot to this organization. He has been around longer than anyone in this locker room," Clippard said. "He has been a pleasure to play with. I hope we can continue to keep him."

Before the game, after warming up in the bullpen, Hernandez received a nice ovation from the 29,679 fans. As Hernandez was walking toward the dugout, shortstop Ian Desmond realized that Hernandez could be pitching his last game in a Nationals uniform.

"I have a lot of friends that play baseball, but Livo has been something special during the my career -- ever since I met him [in 2005]," Desmond said. "He works hard, he is a professional. I think his biggest thing is, he comes to the ballpark ready to do his job. Every time the phone rings, they call his name, he is always there to answer. He has been that way for 16 years. That's why he has had the success he has had."

Hernandez took that momentum from the fans into his start, as he was untouched in the first two innings.

However, the Mets took a 2-0 lead in the third on a two-run single by Ruben Tejada. In the bottom of the inning, the Nats went ahead by scoring three runs off right-hander Mike Pelfrey.

Danny Espinosa drove in Washington's first run with a double, while Rick Ankiel touched home plate on a groundout by Chris Marrero. Wilson Ramos followed and doubled down the left-field line, scoring Espinosa.

Hernandez relinquished the lead in the sixth. With one out, Lucas Duda homered to tie the score at 3, and Hernandez left with the bases loaded and received a thunderous ovation. He acknowledged the crowd by tipping his cap. He even tipped his cap to home-plate umpire Brian O'Nora, who also applauded Hernandez.

"I appreciate all the support. It's very nice," Hsaid Hernandez, who ended his season 8-13 with a 4.47 ERA in 175 1/3 innings. "I left the bases loaded. I tried to get out of the inning, but it didn't happen. I want to say thank you to the fans for supporting me this year. Let see what happens. Something good is going to happen. If not here, somewhere else."

Johnson said he was reluctant to take Hernandez out, but felt that reliever Todd Coffey was the right person to get the team out of the jam.

"[Hernandez] is the hardest hook I have because I have so much confidence in him," Johnson said. "I've also seen when he is not right and the [opposing team] put a lot of hits together. I had my freshest guy to get him out of the jam. It didn't work out."

Todd Coffey entered and allowed a pinch-hit two-run single to former National Willie Harris. Jason Bay then scored on a safety squeeze by Mike Nickeas to make it 6-3. After the game, Harris paid homage to Hernandez.

"He's a professional, obviously," Harris said. "This guy's never been on the disabled list before. That's unbelievable. I'm 0-for-13 against Livan Hernandez in my career. But it's the most comfortable 0-for-13 I can remember. Seriously. It's not like his ball's blazing out of his hand. He's just in and out. He knows how to pitch; [you] tip your hat to him."

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