Livan, Nats falls short in pitchers' duel
Righty allows first runs of season after 17 scoreless innings
WASHINGTON -- Righty Livan Hernandez found himself in a pitchers' duel with former teammate Ubaldo Jimenez at Nationals Park on Thursday evening. When it was over, Jimenez bested Hernandez and the Rockies blanked the Nationals, 2-0.
It was the long ball that did Hernandez in. He gave up a homer to Miguel Olivo in the second inning and another to Ian Stewart five innings later.
Hernandez lasted eight innings and gave up the two runs on five hits.
"The second homer was a pitch down, he hit the ball well," Hernandez said. "I was behind in the count and the other homer was a 3-2 pitch. I threw a slider and it was in the middle of the plate. He was looking for that pitch and he hit it out. ... I made the mistakes today. Somebody has to win. [Jimenez] pitched better than me and that was it."
Rockies manager Jim Tracy was impressed with Hernandez's performance. To Tracy, it looked as if Hernandez and catcher Ivan Rodriguez were playing catch in the backyard.
"Livan Hernandez has been a very special pitcher in this league for a long time," Tracy said. "He pitched today and worked with Pudge like he was having a catch in the backyard. That's how good he was. He made 84 miles an hour look like 92 because that 63 mph curveball gets mixed in there and then he pops you an 84 that looks like it was much firmer, and he uses the edges of the plate."
Hernandez and Jimenez were teammates for half a season in 2008. Back then, Jimenez was in his second season with the Rockies and he was known to walk a lot of hitters. That year he walked 103 of them. However, Hernandez knew that Jimenez would mature and become a quality pitcher.
"He always had good stuff and he was looking for a good year this year," Hernandez said. "He is 4-0. He has the talent to win 20 games every year. He is a good pitcher and he works hard every day. He is young. If he continues to pitch like that, he is going to win maybe the Cy Young."
Jimenez was coming off a no-hitter against the Braves last Saturday. But he gave up five hits and didn't allow a run in 7 1/3 innings. Washington had runners in scoring position three times in the game, but didn't take advantage of the situation.
Their best chance to score off Jimenez occurred in the eighth inning. With a runner on second base, Jimenez left the game in favor of former Nationals left-hander Joe Beimel. Nyjer Morgan came to the plate. Before stepping in the batter's box, Morgan told manager Jim Riggleman that he was going to bunt his way on base and let Cristian Guzman drive him in. Entering Thursday's action, Guzman was .400 hitter from the right side of the plate this season.
Morgan came to the plate and noticed that second baseman Clint Barmes was close to second base and Todd Helton was behind the first-base bag. A drag bunt to the right side was in order. On the first pitch he saw from Beimel, Morgan popped up to Beimel for the second out of the inning. The TV cameras panned on Morgan, who was clearly upset that he couldn't get the job done in that inning.
"We needed baserunners, I know Guzzie is behind me and was going to be able to switch from the right side," Morgan said. "Thinking that we needed baserunners, I just wanted to get something done and I just didn't get the angle I wanted. I basically popped it up. I just didn't get it done."
After Guzman reached base on an infield single, Willie Harris flied out to right field to end the inning.
After the game, most of the talk was about Jimenez. Harris was impressed that Jimenez threw a lot of offspeed pitches in any count.
"The guy throws a million miles an hour," said Harris, who had a double off Jimenez in the first inning. "He has really good offspeed pitches as well. He keeps you off balance. You get in an 2-0 count, you are definitely thinking the fastball. He drops in a changeup or a slider on you. That's what the good pitchers do now."
Riggleman said he saw similarities between Jimenez and Nationals prospect Stephen Strasburg, the team's No. 1 pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
"They are similar in stature," Riggleman said. "Both have the same size, great arms, both have great repertoire of pitches. Jimenez is a horse. He is out there nine innings other day -- no-hitter. Today, he threw 120-plus pitches. He was just in total command."
When asked if he saw similarities between Jimenez and Strasburg, Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond may have put it best.
"When Strasburg comes here, we'll give the Rockies a taste of their own medicine," Desmond said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.