Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The pride to perform

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez earned his 10th win and clubbed his first homer in beating the Braves.
ATLANTA — Pride comes in different forms for different players. For Ian Desmond, it's the desire to put a bad game behind you and come right back the next night and do something special. For Adam Dunn, it's the rush of beating a team in the thick of a pennant race and playing spoiler for at least one night. And for Livan Hernandez, it's the simple act of taking a baseball every fifth day and doing everything in his power to help his team win.

The Nationals have had their effort questioned a few times this season, including as recently as Sunday when Jim Riggleman and his coaches gave them a tongue-lashing after an uninspiring performance against the Marlins.

There was no questioning it tonight during a 6-0 victory over the Braves. It was all there on display, from Dunn's tape-measure home run to Desmond's exclamation point blast in the ninth to Danny Espinosa's hustle to Livo's pitching (and hitting) brilliance.

Put it all together, and you've got the end of a six-game losing streak that clearly had been weighing on everyone's minds. How much did the Nats need a win?

"I would say pretty bad," Dunn said. "We're just a weird team. We just can't seem to put everything together on a consistent basis. Everything's here. But we get good pitching for two weeks and we can't hit anything. Then we'll swing the bats good for two weeks and can't get anybody out. It's just a really weird team to figure out."

There was nothing weird about this one. This was one of the Nats' best all-around performances of the season, and it started with Hernandez, who had been in something of a rut lately (1-3, 9.70 ERA his last four outings) and may have left doubters questioning the club's decision to reward him already with a 2011 contract.

By now, though, we all should know this much: Never doubt Livo. The guy's been doing this too long and has had too much success to suddenly crumble at the end of a superb season.

"He was so good tonight," Riggleman said. "He just reminds us over and over that it's all about pitching. It's not about the radar gun. It's just really a great lesson for everybody on the staff to watch how he works."

This was Hernandez's 30th start of the season, the 13th consecutive year in which he's reached that benchmark for durability. Think about how many pitchers have succumbed to injuries — significant and insignificant — since Livo's streak began in 1998. Not this guy.

"It's not easy to be there every five days for so many years," he said. "Sometimes I pitch when my body's hurt. I pitched one year with my knee completely out of it. I've got a lot of pride. I love this game. I don't know how it's going to be the day I don't pitch every five days. It's not going to be a good day for me."

Hernandez also takes pride in his ability to hit, a skill that for some reason has eluded him this season. Owner of a career .221 batting average and 76 RBI, he entered tonight's game hitting .115 with one RBI.

Then he roped a run-scoring double off Jair Jurrjens in the top of the second. And then he crushed a hanging slider from Jurrjens two innings later for his 10th career home run.

"I like to hit, and I like to help the team win," he said. "Next year I think I'll come back better. I think I've got to lower my bat. I use a 35 (ounce). I've got to start using a 34."

How many other pitchers do you know who pay that much attention to the weight of their bat? For Livo, though, there's always been a lot more to this game than pitching. He cares about performing at the plate. He cares about performing in the field. And he cares about churning out as many innings as possible.

He certainly felt like he could finish tonight's game and go after the 50th complete game and ninth shutout of his career. And Riggleman considered it. But with Livo's pitch count at 118, the manager would have had to send him back to the mound with a short leash. And Hernandez doesn't like to pitch with so little rope, so the two sides agreed his night would end after the eighth.

Not that the Nationals weren't already in good shape at that point, up 6-0 thanks to a couple of towering home runs by Dunn and Desmond.

If you missed tonight's game, find a replay of Dunn's second-inning moonshot. It's worth it. The ball landed on the concourse behind the center-field bleachers at Turner Field, a spot locals rarely recall being invaded in the ballpark's 14-year history.

There's a sign behind those bleachers that notes it's 460 feet from home plate to that spot. And Dunn's homer sailed past that and deeper toward center field. Somehow, the Braves' official estimate came in at 455 feet, leaving the Nats incredulous.

"I don't know who's measuring these things," Desmond said. "I don't know a lot about physics; I only went to high school. But I think it has to go farther [than 460 feet] if it went past the sign."

Dunn's poke was his 35th of the season. He'll need five more over the Nats' final 17 games — and it sounds like he's going to be out of the lineup for tomorrow's series finale against left-hander Mike Minor — to reach the 40-homer plateau for the sixth time. But whether he gets there or not, his calling card remains the same.

"Rickey Henderson steals bags," Dunn said. "Nolan Ryan strikes people out. And I try to hit home runs. That's kind of what I do. If I didn't hit home runs, I wouldn't be in this league, that's for sure."

Desmond's ninth-inning homer (a 427-foot blast to center) didn't reach Dunn territory, but it was no less impressive. It was the rookie shortstop's 10th home run of the season, and it capped off a solid night in which he went 2-for-4 with a sacrifice bunt while excelling in the field.

It also came one night after a nightmare game in which Desmond struck out four times and committed his major-league-leading 33rd error. Sensing the 24-year-old might be physically and mentally in need of a break, Riggleman offered him a day off. Desmond wouldn't even let his manager get the full question out before shooting him down.

"I want to play," Desmond said. "I've been 0-for-4 before. I've had four strikeouts before. If that's going to stop me, you're not going to be a big-leaguer. I just wanted to get back out there and put it behind me. Today was a new day."

Count Desmond's manager among those impressed.

"He didn't back away from the competition," Riggleman said. "That's a special type of guy we've got there that is going to set the tone for a lot of people. Never mind what the batting average says. He is just really some kind of special person."

Stuck in a six-game losing streak, their season long since over, these Nationals are in a tenuous position. It's easy to pack it in and go through the motions these next three weeks. And there may be nights when it appears they do.

On this night, that wasn't going to happen. Not if Livan Hernandez, Adam Dunn and Ian Desmond had anything to say about it.


Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_for_Me said...

Riggs really seems to have tied his destiny to Ian Desmond. I remember a game a couple months ago when Desmond was just brutal in the field, making errors on the easiest plays. After the game when asked about Dessie, Riggs said; "I'd take nine of him."

Maybe Ramons, Dessie and Espinosa are the answer up the middle. Oh, yeah, and what about what's-his-name in center?

Section109 said...

I am on vacation in Venice (Italy, not CA) and must say bravo to Livo, Dunn, Desmond and the rest of the guys! BTW, some of the pop-up ads here are in Italian. Best to Mark & folks at home.

Big Cat said...

Man, I saw Riggs in his post game comments. Phew, he's lookin bad. And this was after a win!
The season can't end quick enough for him I think. I think he's best suited as a bench coach, where he's not in the spotlight.

320R2S15 said...

I have a not so terrible confession to make....I watched every second of last night's game, and I really, really liked it.

Anonymous said...

Last night is why I would take 5 Livos over one Strasburg...desire and results that is all Livo is about, he is by far the greatest pitcher to ever wear an Expos/Nats uniform!

dale said...

Last night's game was such a joy to watch. The fact that it has been so rare an event only makes it more treasured. I have to admit to not being among the supporters for Livo's signing last spring. Boy, was I wrong about that.

I hope Espinoza plays every game til the end of the season. Watching him play is infectious.

Anonymous said...

It is looking more and more like Big Donkey will be leaving via free agency. Baseball wise, it is probably a good move. But he is a lovable big galoot, running around the bases blowing bubbles.

Anonymous said...

I would never in a million years take five Livos over one Strasburg unless there were literally no other pitchers available four out of five days. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate what Livo has done for the team... but people need to be a little less "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" about these guys. Strasburg had a 2.17 xFIP for the season, best of any starting pitcher since Pedro Martinez; Livo's is more like 4.73. xFIP is heavily correlated with next-season ERA, and that is probably what we should expect from him next season.

Richard said...

Livo, a pretty amazing guy. I love the way he goes against conventional thinking. ... On another subject, very non-scientifically, I feel that frequent line-up changes are counter productive. For example, when Desmond was hot a short while ago he was taken out of the line up ostensibly to rest a hamstring but maybe to give ABs to others. When reinserted, he went cold. I'd like to see fewer line up shuffles and double switches.

natsfan1a said...

Leave it to Livo to bring me out of blog seclusion, not that I ever doubted the big guy. Maybe his bat downsizing decision explains his giving one to that Braves fan last night? Nah. :-)

And, sec. 109, I'm very jealous. Have a gelato for me, will ya?

Josh said...

It's not that frequent lineup changes are counterproductive, it is that players get hot or cold independent of their position in the lineup. I do agree that we shouldn't be constantly switching up the lineup as that is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic at this point, and just give the players some stability down the stretch.

Anonymous said...

Livo 49 career CG's..enough said..most of our pitchers INCLUDING SAINT STEPHEN cannot get out of the 5th...bring on 4 more Livo's and we could get to the playoffs!

Anonymous said...

Stephen "couldn't get out of the fifth" because if he was "struggling" (i.e. gave up more than two runs) he was invariably taken out at that time, even if he was only at 80 pitches. Give him Livo's "pitch counts" and he would've had at least two CGs already (opening day and the game against the White Sox) in twelve starts--possibly more. Hell, at the rate he was going against the Phillies that could have been a CG too, if it hadn't been for his injury. There was a grand total of one game where Strasburg genuinely should have been out after five innings, and it was the game against the Marlins where he couldn't locate. Don't confused the Nats' caution with Stephen with an inability to go deep in games, and seriously do not suggest to the Nats FO that they pick up for more pitchers with career ERAs above 4.50.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 1105 -

Let's take a look at the rotation this year and all the guys who were suppose to turn this team around:

Atilano - FAIL
Martin - FAIL
Lannan - FAIL
Strasburg - FAIL (horrible mechanics led to injury and does not have the physical conditioning to compete during the summer heat)
Stammen - FAIL
Olsen- FAIL
Wang - FAIL
Mock - FAIL
Chico - not give a chance
Maya - jury is still out
Detweiler - maybe a glimmer of hope
Zimmerman - maybe a glimmer of hope
Marquis - successful return from injury
Livo - Amazing

Anonymous said...

Oh, and not that it matters, but Stephen averaged exactly 5.2 IP a start and 15.8 pitches/inning, while Livo has averaged just over 6.1 IP per start and 15.4 pitches/inning. They are the top two starters on the Nats in IP/start. The difference is pitch count--Livo averaged 99.9 IP/start, and Strasburg only 89.9 IP/start. There is one, simple reason that a better performer (same efficiency but better results while in the game, in terms of runs scored, K/BB, etc.) gets less pitches per start, and that is that the FO was deliberately keeping his outings short.

So if you're going to hate on our starters for not going deep in games, that's totally fine, but I don't think Strasburg is the one you want.

Also: WTF is this about Strasburg having horrible mechanics and not having the conditioning to compete during the summer heat? When did Nats Insider acquire so many pitching mechanics and conditioning experts? You really don't see a "glimmer of hope" in him but see one in both Zimmermann, who had EXACTLY the same thing happen to him as Strasburg, and Detwiler, who if I may remind you is actually considered to have horrible mechanics and has been on the DL many, many times already? Your logic bewilders me.

Harper_ROY_2012 said...

@ Both of the most recent Anon's -

Looking at the pitching staff statistically by BAA here are the effective starters:

Strasburg .221
Maya .238
JZimm .246
Detweiler .261
Hernandez .267
Atilano .282
Chico .286
Mock .286
Martin .287
Olsen .287
Stammen .299
Marquis .301
Lannan .302

JaneB said...

What a great post, what a great game, what a great Livo. And what a great city Section 109 is visiting. I join natsfan1a in the jealous department.

It's so funny -- and not as in ha-ha -- that guys who produce, like Livo and Adam -- don't get the sort of respect that some others get, even though they deliver the same or better results. Is it because they aren't overtly intense and driven? I think these guys are examples of people who love and respect the game and do their best, every day, to live up to their talents and the Game. They see the bigger picture and how they fit, and they work hard every day. Adam Dunn blowing bubbles as he circles the bases is a source of his power, and a source of delight for many fans (and good shout out on that, Anon at 8:19.). Livo's smile, the way he sets, the way he stands in the batters box, the way Adam chats up everybody who comes near his bag, these things speak to who they are. And why I (and others) love them.

Go Nats!

Anonymous said...

Looking at batting average against doesn't tell the whole story by any stretch, since it doesn't include walks. That's why we use WHIP (though that is not a great measure either IMO, but that's neither here nor there). By that measure (taking out Chico, Mock and Batista, who had only one start each):
Strasburg 1.07
(big gap)
Hernandez 1.32
Maya 1.36
Martin 1.40
JZimm 1.41
Stammen 1.46
Atilano 1.49
Olsen 1.53
Lannan 1.59
Marquis 1.66
(big gap)
Detwiler 1.92

Anonymous said...

I still think Rizzo should have brought his brother Orlando (El Duque) up. The bullpen could use a "mentor" as Sutton and Knight put it as well. If you can waste a 40-man on a Mench, a Harris, a Nieves, a Batista? You could surely use Livo's brother who looked a lot better than Batista that's for sure. With Pudge you would have had everything you need to cat herd young pitchers.

Anonymous said...

Forza Perugia! Merda per Venezia ... ;) okay well Forza Nats!

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Strasburg / Livo comparison, I believe that most of us are grateful that the Nationals have either of them

Mark has done a great job here in providing testimony to Livo's ability and character. Let that stand on its own.

Contra some of the others, I think that the Nats have a pretty rare specimen in Strasburg: my first reaction to seeing him pitch live was "Wow .. that guy is like Secretariat!". He's got the athletic ability and the competitiveness to match it. We don't know how he's going to come back from injury and we don't know yet how durable he is, but we have had a glimpse of the real deal. Everything that we've heard from old-timers to the sure Hall-of-Famer still playing on the team (Pudge) confirms what our eyes have seen. Let's not let hyperbole get the best of us, and let's not make the mistake that Dibble made (or imitate those ungrateful Philly phans) in the process of evaluating the pitchers best able to win for this team in the future.

Mark in Arlington

Ed Stroud said...

Is it me or is Carpenter and Knight getting out of control with the positive spin. Its almost as bad as Theisman doing a Skins game. Its enough to make me vomit

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