Photo by Bob Youngentob / CSNwashington.com
Livan Hernandez authored another quality start and dropped a squeeze bunt.
There was, however, plenty else going on at Nationals Park during that game. So let's rehash some of the developments that got overlooked...
LIVAN HERNANDEZ'S LATEST GEM
All those offseason fears of Hernandez suffering a major regression in the wake of last year's stellar comeback performance? Yeah, it hasn't happened.
OK, it's only three starts, but Livo sure has looked a lot like the guy who led the rotation in wins and innings last season. He's now 1-1 with a 3.50 ERA, allowing only 8.5 hits per nine innings (his lowest rate since 2004) while issuing only 2.5 walks per nine innings (his lowest rate since 2008).
And, yes, I know those numbers are likely to go up over time. But for now, how can anyone complain about the big right-hander?
Hernandez was especially adept last night at hitting the outside corner of the strike zone, not to mention mixing up his mid-80s fastball, low-70s slider and low-60s curveball to the point the Phillies looked silly just about every time they swung the bat. He notched six strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings, striking out six different batters.
As Phillies leadoff man Shane Victorino succinctly put it: "He just knows how to pitch."
By the way, Nationals starters have now allowed three earned runs or fewer in eight of the team's 10 games this season.
LIVAN HERNANDEZ'S SQUEEZE BUNT
Forget about Livo's pitching prowess. Let's talk about his bunting prowess.
With the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning, Hernandez stepped up to bat and noticed Ryan Howard was playing back at first base. No one from the coaching staff gave him the squeeze sign. Livo just decided to do it on his own.
And pulled it off to near-perfection. Hernandez admittedly bunted Joe Blanton's first-pitch cutter a bit softer than he would have liked, but it still traveled far enough for Laynce Nix to score without a play at the plate.
This was the third successful squeeze the Nationals have pulled off in 10 games and only the latest example of their pitching staff executing flawlessly at the plate when called upon, something that was a major problem in previous seasons.
"Last year, I had a difficult time," said Hernandez, normally quite adept with the bat. "I missed five bunts in a row. That never happened to me in my career. I feel so bad. I told everybody: 'I'm trying, I'm trying.'"
THE LEADOFF QUESTION
Not everything was rosy in NatsTown last night. Ian Desmond had a rough night at the plate, going 0-for-5 with a strikeout and four groundballs to the left side of the infield.
Desmond is now batting .209 in 10 games. More concerning is his .227 on-base percentage and inability to work the count. Last night, he swung at the very first pitch he saw from Joe Blanton and grounded out to short. He did the same in the eighth inning against Danys Baez, grounding out on the first pitch.
The Nationals know Desmond isn't a long-term solution in the leadoff spot. They've just been forced into using him in that role to begin the season.
It might be time, though, for a change.
Danny Espinosa has quietly been one of the Nats' most-consistent offensive players in the early portion of the season. He's successfully reached base in eight of 10 games, including six straight. He's drawn seven walks, second only to Werth on the club. His OBP is .417. And he's scored a team-high seven runs.
Sounds like a strong candidate to take over leadoff duties, doesn't it? With Ryan Zimmerman on the DL and Werth now hitting third for at least a few weeks, it might make sense to try Espinosa at the top of the lineup, with Desmond batting No. 2.