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Nats sign Livan, demote Balester

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Not wanting any of their young starting pitchers to pile up too many innings at this early stage of their big league development, the Nationals have decided to turn to an old friend to help get them through the rest of the season.

The Nationals signed Livan Hernandez late tonight and wasted no time inserting the veteran right-hander into their rotation. He’ll start tomorrow against the Cubs, bumping four of Washington’s other starters back a day and bumping Collin Balester to Class AAA Syracuse.

The surprising move, which was announced after the Nationals completed a 15-6 thumping of the Cubs, was made out of necessity more than anything. General manager Mike Rizzo said he does not want to overwork any of his young starters (Balester, Garrett Mock, Craig Stammen, J.D. Martin) and risk injury, not with his team well out of contention.

“We’re running out of innings with some of these young guys,” Rizzo said. “I refuse to push them past their limits. And Livan was available. He’s a good guy in the clubhouse. He’s got some friends here on the ballclub. He’s, if nothing else, a workhorse and a reliable arm to get us some innings and get us through the rest of the season.”

Hernandez, 34, threw the first pitch in Nationals history in 2005 and won 24 games over two seasons before he was traded to Arizona for Mock and Matt Chico. He pitched for three different clubs the last two seasons and was released by the New York Mets last week after going 7-8 with a 5.47 ERA in 23 starts.

Hernandez’s return will push Martin back to Thursday’s finale at Wrigley Field. John Lannan will now start Friday in St. Louis, followed by Stammen and Mock.

Balester, who went 1-4 with a 6.82 ERA in seven starts, will pitch once for Syracuse but then will be recalled once rosters expand in September. To make room on the 40-man roster for Hernandez, the Nationals transferred injured first baseman Dmitri Young to the 60-day disabled list.

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Mark Zuckerman

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