Good afternoon again from Wrigley Field, where the weather has taken a decided turn from yesterday. The wind is now blowing straight in from center field (yesterday it was blowing straight out, perhaps aiding in the six combined home runs hit by the Nationals and Cubs). It also rained all morning and is threatening to rain more this evening. The temperature has dropped into the 60s. As they say here in the Midwest: If you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes.
Into this scene, a familiar face will emerge for the Nats: Livan Hernandez. Admit it, when you heard the news late last night or this morning that Washington had signed the old right-hander and announced he’d be starting tonight against the Cubs, you couldn’t help but smile. I was the same way. I have no earthly idea if Livo has anything left in his arm — then again, I was convinced he didn’t about three years ago and he proved me wrong — but I’m legitimately excited to find out.
I’ve enjoyed covering few athletes more than Hernandez. I just love watching him pitch, because he doesn’t pitch like anyone else I can think of from this generation. When he’s on, he is a master at changing speeds and fooling batters. I’ve seen him throw as high as 89 mph and as low as 59 mph. In the same inning. And on top of that, he throws more pitches than anybody in the game. If he doesn’t throw at least 120 tonight, I’d be stunned.
Anyways, in honor of this occasion, I’ve tried to put together a list of some memorable Livo outings from his first stint with the Nats. These aren’t all of them, but they’re a pretty good sample of what he did during his time in D.C. Overall, Livo made 59 starts for the Nats those two years, going 24-18 with a 4.49 ERA. That still stands as the second-most starts by any Nationals pitcher, surpassed only recently by John Lannan (who is now up to 63).
OK, the Livo highlights (and some lowlights)…
APRIL 4, 2005 — Hernandez throws the first pitch in Nationals history, at Philadelphia, but overall turns in a poor performance (seven runs, eight hits in 4 2/3 innings) as the Nats lose to the Phillies, 8-4.
APRIL 14, 2005 — Hernandez throws the first pitch in a Nationals home game, and that sets in motion a fabulous performance. While everyone remembers Vinny Castilla coming within a single of the cycle, did you remember that Livo carried a 1-hit shutout into the ninth inning at RFK? He did serve up a three-run homer before handing the ball over to Chad Cordero, but he was unquestionably a star in Washington’s 5-3 win over Arizona.
MAY 29, 2005 — Hernandez outduels St. Louis’ Chris Carpenter in what really amounted to a must-win game for the Nats, who had lost five in a row and fallen under .500. But behind Livo’s seven innings, Washington beat the Cardinals 3-2 to end a road trip and then returned to D.C. to kick off the greatest homestand in team history, the one that included the 10-game winning streak. Speaking of which…
JUNE 3, 2005 — One of the big games during that win streak came against the Marlins, a 3-2 victory in which Hernandez went the distance and threw 150, yes 150, pitches. Most pitches I’ve ever seen thrown in one game by one pitcher. And Frank Robinson never gave a thought to pulling him.
JULY 1, 2005 — With a 4-3 win at Chicago, Livo improves to 12-2 with a 3.32 ERA. Yeah, that’s how good he was the first half of that season. That also earned him a spot on the NL All-Star team.
APRIL 13, 2006 — This felt like the beginning of the end for Livo. During a 13-4 loss to the Mets at RFK, he served up four homers and allowed eight runs and 11 hits in six innings.
JUNE 20, 2006 — Another low point, this time at Fenway Park, with Hernandez lasting only 1 2/3 innings, giving up six runs and sporting a fastball that registered 82 mph. Everyone wondered if Livo’s arm was injured, but he insisted it wasn’t. Pitching coach Randy St. Claire, though, pointed out the obvious: You can’t be successful in the majors with an 82 mph fastball and a 78 mph slider, which is what Livo was throwing that night.
JULY 26-AUGUST 6, 2006 — Just when you thought he was finished, Hernandez showed he still had plenty left in the tank. Over a four-start stretch, he went 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA. That Aug. 6 start at San Diego, though, marked the end of his D.C. tenure. He was traded to the Diamondbacks the next day for Garrett Mock and Matt Chico. And now tonight, he returns.