Saturday, March 26, 2011

Livo, rest of staff look ready to go

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Despite a stiff neck, Livan Hernandez tossed four scoreless innings today.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Sometime earlier in the week, Livan Hernandez woke up with a stiff neck, a minor annoyance that didn't prevent him from making his final start of the spring today and certainly won't prevent him from making his Opening Day start Thursday in Washington.

"I feel very good," he said. "I'm ready to go to the season and Opening Day."

It would take a lot more than a stiff neck to keep Livo from taking the ball against the Braves at Nationals Park. This will be the ninth time he's started on Opening Day -- amazingly, that ties him with Roy Halladay for tops among all active pitchers -- but this one might be the most significant yet for the 36-year-old.

"I've got a couple on my shoulders already," he said. "But this one is special because I don't know if it's going to be the last one."

What's that? Livan Hernandez considering retirement?

Not so fast. Livo insists he's got four more good years in him, and he'd love for them all to come in a Nationals uniform. Whether they do or not, though, he knows he won't be getting the call on Opening Day anymore. Not with a certain flame-throwing phenom set to return from Tommy John surgery.

But as Hernandez put it: "Sometimes you play golf and birdie doesn't win the hole."

The Nationals will happily take plenty more birdies from Livo, who metaphorically stuck a 7-iron to within 6 inches during today's start against the Astros. Despite being limited to four innings as a precaution due to the stiff neck, he didn't allow a run, surrendered just one hit and a walk and looked comfortable as ever out there.

It was Hernandez's second straight solid outing and lowered his spring ERA to 3.60. Historically, the big guy hasn't pitched well in spring training, but he was very good last spring and he's been good again this spring.

Actually, the entire Nationals pitching staff has been quite good over the last week. With today's 10-0 whitewashing of the Astros, Washington secured its fifth straight victory. During that span, the staff has allowed a total of seven runs.

"We've won five games in a row, and it doesn't escape you that we've averaged [giving up] about two runs or less in those five games," Jim Riggleman said. "As much as you get excited about guys playing good and hitting, it's pitching. We've pitched good five days in a row, and we've won five games."

You always have to look at Grapefruit League stats with a grain of salt, but most people in the game do believe strong performances during the final week of March are a good sign of things to come.

"Yeah, you want to see guys start to get their game face on," pitching coach Steve McCatty said, adding: "This is the time to do it. You want to finish up strong, absolutely."

In that regard, the Nationals' bullpen has looked particularly strong over the last few days. During that span, the eighth relievers still in the running for jobs (Drew Storen, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, Doug Slaten, Todd Coffey, Chad Gaudin, Brian Broderick and Collin Balester) have pitched 19 innings, allowing two runs and nine hits. And both of those runs came off Coffey in the ninth inning Thursday against the Tigers.

That hot streak coincides with a meeting McCatty had with the entire staff, in which he instructed them to stop feeling sorry for themselves every time they gave up a hit. "Get the ball and throw it," he said.

The motivational speech has apparently worked.

"They've taken it to heart," McCatty said. "It's been good to watch. They're going about their business the right way."

The guy who started today always goes about his business the right way. And there's little question he'll do the same Thursday when he gets the ball on Opening Day for the ninth time, perhaps savoring this experience a little more than he has in the past.

"It's very nice they give me the honor of pitching the first game of the season," Hernandez said. "I've got a chance to win that day. I'm really happy. All my friends are coming to the game. It will be very nice."


Tom said...

It's a little early to be awarding the 2012 opening day start to Strasburg. He will still be coming off this surgery. There may be as much chance that Zimmermann starts opening day. Or maybe even the elusive top of the rotation starter that we were unable to find this past winter. If we had signed Cliff Lee, wouldn't he have started opening day? As far as I know, we will still be in the market next winter for a similar player. Of course, if the pitchers keep going like they have been this past week (which seems to coincide with Mark's return to Viera), we even might have a hard time fitting Strasburg into the rotation :)

Anonymous said...

As I was Just sayin'

More pedestrian options like Hernandez, Marquis and Lannan need to watch their backs. None of that trio is likely to be a part of the next successful Nationals team and so management has little incentive to continue to invest major league innings in them. Some may be wondering about this conclusion with regards to Lannan. After all, 2011 is his first arbitration season, making him team controlled through at least the 2013 season. However, Lannan is an extremely pedestrian pitcher and as someone already earning $2.75 million in 2011, he is a likely non-tender candidate. All three are solid back-of-the-rotation pitchers, so look for the Nationals to ship one or more of them elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

... AND Mark; see the comments re: Gorzelanny below.

As such, a better question might be, "What five starting pitchers will pitch the most innings this season?"

Let's start with the pitchers who should have secure jobs. Zimmermann will be given every opportunity at the big league level as a player who is expected to slot in well behind Strasburg. Gorzelanny also has solid job security as a fairly stable, middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. Barring injury, those pitchers should have little trouble putting together a full season with the Nationals.

Anonymous said...

The more interesting options are Maya and Detwiler. Maya is an extreme command and control type pitcher whom the Nationals really like. The Cuban defector has seen little work in the States and could probably benefit from some time spent in the minors. Still, the Nationals are likely eager to give Maya the opportunity to mature into something more valuable than their current back-of-the-rotation veteran depth.

In short work this spring, Detwiler has been impressive. He's talked about finally feeling recovered from his previous hip surgery and scouts have indicated that they can tell. As the sixth overall pick in the 2007 Rule IV draft, Detwiler has the former prospect pedigree and raw skills to be an effective and reliable middle-of-the--otation pitcher. If Detwiler maintains the poise that has made his early spring appearances so impressive, the decision makers in Washington will be falling all over themselves to find a way to get him in the rotation.

Mark'd said...

The bullpen is shaping up which is a big relief ( no pun intended ).

Another_Sam said...

Mark - have you and colleagues opined on the likely number of wins for the season, as you did last year?

JayB said...

82 wang, no perez, no morgan....Several big trades by June 30 with all these vets shipped out by end of the year.....Next year wild card winner.

Tim said...

Once we get Stras, JZim, Detwiler, Maya and Gorzelanny (any any of the other young guys currently coming up in A and AA) in their proper spots then that seems to leave no room for a back of the rotation innings eater like Lannan or Livo.

But its all theory crafting until it happens. I still think affordable dependable players like Lannan / Livo are worth keeping around to give flexability and give the team a chance in case anyone else gets hurt / falters.

Anonymous8 said...

MLB Network predicts 71 which seems low just based on last years pythagorean of 72 and considering this team has improved over last year.

I still think 74 to 78 wins seems about right.

Anonymous8 said...

Mark Zuckerman said...That hot streak coincides with a meeting McCatty had with the entire staff, in which he instructed them to stop feeling sorry for themselves every time they gave up a hit. "Get the ball and throw it," he said.

The motivational speech has apparently worked.

"They've taken it to heart," McCatty said. "It's been good to watch. They're going about their business the right way."

Under Randy St. Claire, he didn't have pitchers with STUFF so it is nice as a pitching coach to give that speech to some pitchers that can take it and deliver. Lannan likes to go to nibbling and since he is a pitch to contact guy I am hoping a better defense pays dividends for Lannan.

A DC Wonk said...

"MLB Network predicts 71"

Oooh, oooh, oooh, can I take the "over" on that?!

But, more seriously, are they paying attention at all? All indication are that the team is obviously better this year.

I'm guessing 80-82

A DC Wonk said...

(I didn't mean a record of 80-82, I meant: somewhere around 80 to 82 wins)

Theophilus said...

I'll bet on 82-80. Maybe actually a step back in the second half of the season after they trade Marquis, I-Rod, maybe Lannan and some of the others JayB and The One & Only Anonymous are anxious to get rid of and they have to rely on some less experienced players. You can't realistically expect them to go all in if they're "just" 7-8 back at the All-Star break -- they'll go back to the "building for the future" mold.

Doc said...

USA To-Day and MLB Network both think that Nats are less than the Mets, and all the other NL Easties.

Sloopy analysis, I'd say. We're gonna bury the Mets and go from there!

Needless to say, none of the so-called 'scouts' doing the ratings had the cohones to leave their business cards!

Gooooooooooooooo Nats!!!

Mark Zuckerman said...

Another_Sam said...
Mark - have you and colleagues opined on the likely number of wins for the season, as you did last year?

We've been putting together a list of prediction categories (including wins) and will be voting in the next few days. I'll post everyone's answers right before Opening Day.

Andrew said...

Mark, can we also participate in the fun of making predictions if you give us the categories and we can email them to you and then you can copy and paste to post them before the season starts?

JayB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JayB said...

Not really a badge honor I know but it seems that I am often a just a few hours ahead of Tom Bowell's latest rant or mood swing...I posted what I was seeing and my expectations yesterday...This team is ready to win more than lose. I have been consistently saying that for over 6 weeks now.....

I hate that they Rizzo and Rigss still have not moved into the next mode.....building focus should be in the...winning is now....forget O. Perez, Wang types....Cut Morgan types before spring training starts. Pproject a higher standard for the organization....Stop praising Morgan types for attempting to learn baseball fundamentals at 30 years old. Stop signing fat loser washed up pitchers who only care about themselves not a team....(Perez!).

Set a tone that says.....been there done that....never, ever going there again!

Anonymous8 said...

Don't get Mark upset. Boswell is going with what he calls the MLB radar gun on JZim's outing. 98mph and plenty of 96mph.

What I like is Boswell giving credit and only one Lerner reference. It is nice when he can talk about baseball and stay away from phantom quotes he supposedly heard by the batting cage.

Anonymous8 said...

Boswell also gives some well deserved press to Wilson Ramos who may turn out to be one of those "trade steals" that define a GM while also pointing out that the Greinke non-trade may be the best trade Rizzo didn't make which I said too many times when I heard JZim was being mentioned.

From Boswell today...This week, Ramos batted twice against Justin Verlander. The Nats’ 220-pound catcher smoked a double off the left field wall and lined out. No right-handed hitter looks comfortable against the 6-foot-6 strikeout king. Ramos almost did. Maybe he just didn’t know any better. But the Nats noticed.

“Did you see Ramos in batting practice?” said Ryan Zimmerman, who seldom gushes. “That was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen.”

“Ramos hits screaming line drives. The ball has that ‘different sound’ when it comes off his bat,” said Nats Manager Jim Riggleman. “He’s just going to be a heckuva player for a long time.”

BP doesn’t count. But Ramos is hitting .333 in spring training. By July, the debate may be whether to make Ramos the true starting catcher and run the risk of finding out how Pudge Rodriguez, an all-time great, copes with becoming a backup catcher when he’s still more than 100 hits shy of 3,000.

JayB said...


JayB said...

2nd round pick......good news....Related to Lenny......not such good news.....Rizzo can finally move on from that Lastings, Morgan trade and claim some level of respect.

Anonymous said...

JayB has been pounding the drumbeat of incoherent negativity for six long years. The only thing JayB is ahead of the curve on is idiocy.

JayB said...

Oh ABM....even you can not bring me done today...this is just as good as cutting Leduca or trading Lastings.....Good days ahead!

Anonymous8 said...

JayB, I welcome your positive remarks.

Anonymous said...

JayB hated Milledge until they traded Milledge for Morgan. Then JayB hated Morgan. The ink is not even dry on the deal yet, and already JayB is laying the groundwork for his hatred of Dykstra. JayB is nothing but a hater. Why can't we trade JayB and his imaginary friend ABM?

JayB said...

Milledge for Morgan...that was always trash for trash.....Daddy Dykstra was a juicer....and a loser...hope the apple fell far far from the tree....we shall see

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