Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Livo made a statement"

NEW YORK -- After a week's worth of shaky starts, high pitch counts and early exits, an old friend stepped to the mound today at Citi Field and showed the rest of the Nationals' rotation how it's done.

Livan Hernandez, that crafty, big right-hander who once held the title of Nationals staff ace, put down the hammer today. He tossed seven innings of scoreless ball, needed only 88 pitches to do it and showed his teammates first-hand what it takes to win at the big-league level, leading Washington to a 5-2 victory over the Mets.

"That's what you're supposed to do, just what he did," manager Jim Riggleman said. "And I'm sure some of our guys took notice."

Riggleman can only hope the rest of his pitching staff was paying attention to the 35-year-old. Hernandez may not have better stuff than Garrett Mock, Jason Marquis, John Lannan and Craig Stammen, but the guy sure does understand how to pitch.

And as we've seen already in this young season, that counts just as much (if not more) than everything else.

As outfielder Willie Harris put it: "Livo made a statement."

And because of that statement, the Nationals left town this evening with a 3-3 record, a full game better than the Mets. What's the big deal about that? This represents the first time the Nats have been in sole possession of anything other than last place in the NL East since April 6, 2008.

Baby steps, folks. Baby steps.

The Washington club that boarded three buses bound for Philadelphia is hardly a juggernaut. The chance of maintaining a .500 record much longer is slim, not with as many holes as remain on this roster.

But only one week into the 2010 season, the Nationals are showing signs of actual progress. They're playing better defense than they did a year ago. They're getting better relief pitching than they did a year ago. They're pouncing on opposing pitchers more than they did a year ago.

And they're coming together as a team more than they did a year ago.

You saw that on a couple of occasions during today's game, including in the first inning when Josh Willingham smoked a ball off the wall in deep left-center. Originally ruled a triple (with Willingham getting tagged out at the plate following a comedy of collisions and errant throws) members of the Nationals immediately argued it should have been a home run.

Ryan Zimmerman, unable to play with a tight hamstring and watching the game on TV from the clubhouse, came running down the tunnel to the dugout railing and started screaming and motioning that it was a home run.

"I just saw it hit off a wall. It never occurred to me that it was a home run," Willingham said. "It didn't until I got to the dugout and people were like: 'That's a home run!' Then a couple of guys came out from in [the clubhouse] and said it hit on the other side of the orange line. It was a nice little surprise."

Sure enough, after a video review of the play, the umpiring crew reversed the call and gave Willingham his grand slam. Josh was credited with all four RBI, and he added a fifth two innings later, but perhaps he should have presented one to Zimmerman as a thank-you present.

By the time the ninth inning rolled around, with the Nats up 5-2 and looking comfortable, they came together once again when Harris was plunked on the elbow by Francisco Rodriguez and had words with the Mets closer. Harris, who made the game-saving catch in left field Saturday, said he didn't think Rodriguez tried to hit him on purpose. K-Rod, though, heard Harris curse out of frustration that he had just been plunked and thought it was directed at him.

So the war of words ensued, and before you knew it, both benches and bullpens emptied.

Asked if he was surprised by Rodriguez's reaction, Harris said: "Yeah. I mean, one thing about it, if you're going to chirp, just go ahead and fight. I ain't with all the talking. Like I said, I didn't direct anything towards him, and he said what he said to me, and that's why I said it back to him. It's a game. You're going to get hit. He's a man. I'm a man. If you've got a problem with me, do what you've got to do. That's all there is to it."

Rodriguez said he hoped Harris didn't think the plunking was on purpose.

"I hope not," he said. "That's the last thing I want to do in that situation. You know, they've got a lot of hitters diving out there on the plate. Most of the time I go away. I was trying to make a pitch inside, not make them feel too comfortable in the plate. They didn't seem to get upset kind of like that. But I've got to do my job. They're not going to take that away from me. I'm going to keep pitching inside. And if I hit 'em, I hit 'em. I didn't do anything on purpose."

Whatever the case, the entire Nationals roster immediately came to Harris' aide.

"That's what teams do," Harris said. "We're going to stick together. Their guys are going to stick together. That's just how it goes. I'm here for the Nationals. They're here for their team. We're here to win. They're here to win."

And Hernandez was here to win. From the moment the right-hander took the mound, he made it clear he was going to churn out the best start by a Nationals pitcher this season. He did just that, and then some.

No one else on the staff had pitched more than five innings. Hernandez went seven. If this had been May or June, he probably could have gone more, but at this early stage of the year he felt a bit gassed and told Riggleman he wanted out after the seventh.

"I can go and pitch, because I like pitching," he said. "But I don't want to be a hero on my first day back."

Sorry to inform you this, Livo, but seven shutout innings today qualified you for hero status.

24 comments:

Mr. Doggett said...

you gotta love Livo.

Richard said...

Nice article Mark. You do nice work. We need some heroics, and the "old Man" showed 'em how it's done! Sorry they decided on Olsen instead of Martin--can't figure why he's always their last option.Do you know why?

ArlingtonBigFish said...

Watching Livo stroll from the mound after each inning is kind of like watching Clint Eastwood walk down the street. Says my teen-age daughter, who is rapidly becoming an incurable Nats fan, "He's Soooooooo Coooool!!"

Positively Half St. said...

He is so cool. I have no great insights in baseball other than what any other lifelong fan has at 46, but I truly expected him to do well today. Livo is a first-half success, perhaps because nobody knows what to do with him so early. They are expecting pitchers to have the advantage on power early on, and are not at all ready for guile.

I was going to argure about April 6, 2008, but then I remembered that they played the opening game on March 31 that year, didn't they? That would have given them time to go 3-0 before starting the 0-7 swoon that destroyed them.

Wally said...

Mark

This is off Livo topic, but I saw this on MLBTradeRumors. Have you heard about this before? If true, puts another consideration on how long they leave him in the minors.

"Stephen Strasburg, who struck out eight over five innings of work in his pro debut today, will be limited to about 100 innings this year, according to MLB.com's Peter Gammons (via Twitter). Gammons says Scott Boras negotiated that condition into the righty's deal with the Nationals last summer."

Knoxville Nat said...

Better relief pitching this year....thank you Mr. Rizzo.

Better defense this year.....thank you Jim Riggleman.

Bring on them Phillies, we owe them a couple!!

Deez Nats said...

Mark: According to Retrosheet, the Nationals were technically not in last place after close of play on April 8, 2008 (percentage points ahead of Mets). http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/2008/04082008.htm

randomdude2228 said...

Mark: It's aid, not aide ;-) (an aide is a person... aid as in assistance is without the e)

Anonymous said...

I saw one -- just one -- effective pitcher that week this spring: Livan. I'm sure others noticed this. [This was against the Yankees A-Team roster.] That's the good news. The bad news is that all this just underscores how weak this staff is.

1stBaseCoach said...

where are all the posters who howled months ago when the Nats re-upped on Livo?

Kevin said...

Livo has always been a favorite of mine since the Nats came to town. His seven innings today did not disappoint me. I'll let him slide since it's early in the season, but it seemed weird to see him come out of the game only having thrown 88 pitches.

Souldrummer said...

Livo got us Mock and Martis. Pitch well again this year, and you hope you can get him into a race with another one of his former teams like say the Giants or Marlins for some Aaron Thompson+ prospects. It can be the Livo reunion tour!

Suicide Squeeze said...

I was only able to listen to the game on the radio, but when I heard that the benches had cleared, all I could think was:

The Mets must HATE Willie Harris.

(Sportscenter, though, gave Mr. Harris some "Met Killer" love with a highlight hat trick of Willie robberies.)

Sec3MySofa said...

Always the consummate professional, Livo wouldn't show up even his soon-to-be-former teammates.

"I'll let him slide since it's early in the season, but it seemed weird to see him come out of the game only having thrown 88 pitches."

Sec3MySofa said...

Point of information:
Livo was traded to Arizona for Mock and Matt Chico; Mike Stanton to the Giants brought Martis.

Souldrummer said...

Thanks Sec3MySofa.
Livo gets even better. I think Chico is more likely to pan out this year than Martis. Martis just ain't got the stuff. He's like JV JD Martin for me.

Tcostant said...

"Wally said...
Mark

This is off Livo topic, but I saw this on MLBTradeRumors. Have you heard about this before? If true, puts another consideration on how long they leave him in the minors.

"Stephen Strasburg, who struck out eight over five innings of work in his pro debut today, will be limited to about 100 innings this year, according to MLB.com's Peter Gammons (via Twitter). Gammons says Scott Boras negotiated that condition into the righty's deal with the Nationals last summer."

Me:
Wally - I think it's a 100 pitches per start. No way the Nats would agree to hold Strasburg to 100 innings for the whole year. Expect about 140-150 innings because that is the "safe" progression from where he was last year.

Diz said...

That was 100 innings at the major league level.

Wally said...

Here is an update, sounds like someone got it wrong. Also from MLBTraderumors. By the way, any update on Wang's rehab, Mark?

Stephen Strasburg, who struck out eight over five innings of work in his pro debut today, will be limited to about 100 innings this year, according to MLB.com's Peter Gammons (via Twitter). Gammons says Scott Boras negotiated that condition into the righty's deal with the Nationals last summer. However, Nationals farm director Doug Harris told MASN.com's Ben Goessling that a 100 inning cap for Strasburg "doesn't hold water" (Twitter link). Harris says 150-160 innings would be reasonable for Strasburg (Twitter link).

Anonymous8 said...

Rumors, rumors, rumors. Gammons may get a little egg on his face on that one. 100 innings as a cap for MLB time or combined?

My question of the day for Mark Z. is what has happened to Adam Dunn's power? We didn't see it all Spring Training and besides some majestic foul balls, no Homers yet.

alm1000 said...

Livo, Livo, Livo!

Welcome back old friend.

Bas said...

I'd also like to get an update on Wang.I thought he might pitch in May but now he's on the 60 day DL

Anonymous said...

You gotta love Livo, the modern day Camilo Pasqual. This guy just knows the game and whatever rubs off of him onto others on that staff will be a blessing. JTinSC

K.D. said...

Thanks Mr. Z; For the great article on Livan. Nice to see someone over thirty get some love (especially since I am over 40-ish). Great writing, quite Mitch Album-ish.

Post a Comment