03/29/11 6:37 PM ET
Hernandez primed for fourth Opening Day start
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
Hernandez had the honor of opening for Montreal and Washington from 2004-06. Three other pitchers have started on Opening Day for the club since it moved to Washington: John Patterson (2007), Odalis Perez ('08) and John Lannan ('09-10).
"I'm ready to go through the season," Hernandez said. "I feel good. It's very nice to give me the honor to pitch that first game of the season. I have a chance to win that day. All of my friends are coming to the game."
For Hernandez, Thursday's opener is extra special. At 36 years old, he doesn't know if it will be the last time he has such an honor. He realizes teammate Stephen Strasburg, who is still recovering from Tommy John Surgery, will likely be the Nationals' No. 1 guy for years to come.
"Yeah, [Strasburg] is coming back," Hernandez said. "He is the number one pitcher in the rotation. I don't control the game."
A year ago, baseball experts wondered if Hernandez was finished as a pitcher, but he entered the season on a mission. He had a lot to prove because he felt teams had forgotten about him two offseasons ago.
Hernandez that offseason didn't sign with Washington until Feb. 24, 2010, and he 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 in 2005. For the four years after he was beset by the injury, though, Hernandez never went on the disabled list.
"I made a mistake not signing in September . I had a chance to sign a contract -- guaranteed. I didn't sign it," Hernandez said. " I came to Spring Training and did my job and made the team."
Hernandez proved that he was far from finished. Outside of Strasburg, he was the best starting pitcher on Washington's staff, going 10-12 with a respectable 3.66 ERA. Because of that, Hernandez is thinking that he could pitch four more years.
"I'm not done in baseball. I feel good," Hernandez said. "I feel much better. When you see something like that [taking a long time to sign with a team], it makes you more hungry to enjoy the game and prove to the people you are not finished. I had a good year last year and proved to the people that I can continue to pitch."
Hernandez is more than just a pitcher, he is a mentor to younger pitchers on the staff. He is willing to teach the art of pitching and the way to act on and off the field.
"You have to be careful of the way you talk to the young guys," Hernandez said. "The way I talk to the guys is how to act, be professional and how to be better on the mound. I never tell a pitcher who throws 97, 98 miles per hour to change his style and throw easy. I talk about the mechanics and how to pitch to a hitter."
Once his career is over, Hernandez would like to stay in the Nationals' organization and help young pitchers.
"I would love to do that," Hernandez said. "The Nationals gave me a chance. This is a great organization. The people in the front office are very nice. The players here are very good. That's what I think."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.