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New Astro Livan Hernandez allowed three hits, but zero runs, in two innings today.
Livan Hernandez was throwing a baseball wearing a big-league uniform. All was right with the world.
Except something was just a bit off. That uniform Hernandez was wearing was missing a curly W. The red tint was a bit off, too. And the word across the jersey read: "Astros."
"It was really weird," manager Davey Johnson said.
Indeed, it was. After spending parts of seven of the last nine seasons pitching for this franchise, Hernandez and the Nationals parted ways over the winter. They made no formal offer to bring the 37-year-old hurler back. He never expected one to come, so when the Astros came calling with a minor-league contract offer but a likely spot in their Opening Day rotation, he decided to move on.
Perhaps it was only fitting that Hernandez's first start with his new club came against his former one. That led to some good-natured ribbing from both sides. Last night, Nationals left fielder Michael Morse sent Hernandez a text message saying: "I'm coming! I'm coming! You better be ready!"
Morse, of course, wasn't even on the Nationals' travel roster for this game and thus didn't make a surprise appearance.
"It's tough to face them, but everybody's got to do their job," Hernandez said. "We're still friends. Whatever happens on the field, we're still friends. But it's tough. It's not easy to face friends the first time. It's tough."
On the mound, Hernandez was up to his usual tricks. He allowed three hits over two innings but didn't allow anyone to score. He threw 23 of his 33 pitches for strikes, then went over to the Houston bullpen to get some more work in after a light day at the office.
Afterward, he spoke about his time in Washington and his desire to someday work for the Nationals ... but not until he retires, which he doesn't plan on doing anytime soon.
Livo is about to enter his 16th full season in the majors. How many more does he have left in him?
"I don't know. Let's see if I can go for three more, maybe more, I don't know," he said. "I want to be the Jamie Moyer of right-handers. But I don't know. Let's see what happens."
The Nationals' Opening Day starter in 2005, 2006 and 2011, Hernandez hoped to return for another season in D.C. But by late-summer, it became clear the organization wasn't going to have a guaranteed spot for him, not with several young starters emerging from their system and Stephen Strasburg returning from Tommy John surgery.
So Hernandez gave up his September starts in favor of the kids. At season's end, Johnson and others told him the club would like to have him back, but Livo knew better.
"A couple people said: 'I want you back.' But inside, I say, 'Yeah, right. It's not gonna happen,'" Hernandez said. "But we're good. I'm good with Johnson, and [GM] Mike Rizzo is a great guy. He was good to me all these years. But I knew I'm not going back over there."
His absence from camp this spring has been noticeable, especially for those young pitchers who are now taking over his spot.
"I love watching him pitch," left-hander Ross Detwiler said. "His demeanor out there is awesome. ... Just going about things day-to-day, you try to model yourself after him. He's a stand-up guy. He's been in the big leagues for a long time. Everybody wants to be that guy that's around in the big leagues."
Said Johnson: "I love the guy, for a lot of reasons. Not just because he's a heck of an athlete and a heck of a pitcher. He's been a great influence on this ballclub. Toward the end of the season, he sacrificed his starts for some of the young guys. He's just a special person."
If Hernandez makes the Astros' rotation as expected, there's a good chance he'll toe the rubber at Nationals Park sometime during the April 16-19 series between the two clubs.
If and when that happens, the assembled crowd is sure to offer a rousing ovation and welcome back to a man who has pitched for eight different organizations and worn a whole lot of different uniforms over the years but has always considered Washington home.
"It's a business," he said. "Baseball is all business, and you gotta do what you gotta do and is good for you and take it a different way. They don't need me any more over there. They signed a couple good pitchers, [Gio] Gonzalez and [Edwin] Jackson. So I made the decision and go somewhere else."