Livan helps Nats even series with Cubs
Pitching with purpose, righty notches third victory of season
CHICAGO -- A few minutes after pitching against the Yankees in Tampa, Fla., during Spring Training, Nationals right-hander Livan Hernandez went on TV and vowed that 2010 would be a big year for him. He never said why he felt that way until after he helped the Nationals defeat the Cubs, 3-1, at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night.
Hernandez, who tossed seven-plus innings of one-run ball, is now 3-1 with a 0.87 ERA. He entered the season on a mission: He had a lot to prove because he felt teams had forgotten about him this past offseason.
Hernandez didn't sign with Washington until Feb. 24 and was not happy that other free agents signed before him. It didn't help that he was coming off a season in which he was a combined 9-12 with a 5.44 ERA for the Mets and Nationals. He said that he was still recovering from a right knee injury that he suffered back in 2005. For the next four years, Hernandez never went on the disabled list
Hernandez was emotional when he talked about his love for the game and proving people wrong thus far.
"I can still pitch for a long time, more years," Hernandez said. "I don't want them to forget me. I feel sometimes when I see people signing and signing, I say, 'Wow, did I do a good job?' I understand it's business. My family and my friends, they see it. They told me I can do this.
"I want to show the people that I'm not done. I want to play because I love this game. I do everything they asked me to do. I pitch every five days; I haven't missed a start for 14 years. People think it's easy. It's not easy. No matter what happens, no matter how you feel, I'm always there."
But he made it look easy against the Cubs. Hernandez scattered five hits. The run was scored in the second inning, when Alfonso Soriano touched home plate on a fielder's choice. After that frame, the Cubs didn't have a runner in scoring position until after Hernandez left the game in the bottom of the eighth inning.
"He never gives in," Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said. "You know he's going to stay away from you, he's going to try to hit the corners ... 2-0, 3-1, he's not just going to groove one down the middle."
After signing him to a Minor League deal, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo saw a different Hernandez that he never saw before. Hernandez came into camp in great shape, and Rizzo is not surprised that he is off to a great start.
"He was as determined as I've ever seen him," Rizzo said. "He wants to pitch for more years. He wants to play for a long time. He wants to prove people who wouldn't sign him in the offseason that he still has it. He is pitching with passion."
The Nationals gave Hernandez a 2-0 lead in the first inning off left-hander Tom Gorzelanny. After Nyjer Morgan led off with a triple, Ian Desmond brought him in with a single to right field. Desmond then scored on a triple by Cristian Guzman.
Desmond gave the Nationals an insurance run in the top of the eighth inning, when he singled off John Grabow to left field to drive in Morgan.
"[The pitchers] left a couple of pitchers up, and I hit them -- nothing real special," Desmond said. "I've been feeling good at the plate. Tonight, they just fell for me."
It was Hernandez who had the special night, thanks to the help of catcher Ivan Rodriguez. The two have worked well together. Hernandez hasn't worked this well with a Nationals catcher since Brian Schneider was on the team.
Hernandez said he rarely disagrees with his batterymate when it comes to pitch selection. It helps that they -- along with catcher Wil Nieves and pitching coach Steve McCatty -- have meetings before each of Hernandez's starts.
"We put everything together before the game," Hernandez said. "All that, we bring into the game. For right now, it has been perfect [with Rodriguez]. We have good communication during the game. We talk, I give him a sign on the mound, sometimes we talk in Spanish. It's something we have to do. It's something we have to do to make the game better."
Rodriguez said all the credit goes to Hernandez.
"He is a good pitcher. He is doing great," Rodriguez said. "He is hitting his spots, hitting his corners, keeping the ball down. He is throwing all of his pitches for strikes. He is just doing great. He knows what to do, I know what to do. I'm not afraid to call a pitch other than the fastball."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.