The Washington Times - April 1, 2011, 10:29AM

Sure, the Nationals lost on Opening Day for the sixth time in seven years since the team came to Washington.

And while this is the time of predictions and prognostications — almost all of which have the Nationals finishing last yet again in the NL East — there may be a glimmer of hope from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in the form of Gene Collier’s column from Thursday:

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The Detroit Tigers are in New York to play the Yankees beginning at 1:05 p.m., which is the identical start time in Washington, where the Nationals entertain the Braves, if you call that entertainment.

The entire season hinges on that moment — 1:05 p.m.

Every conceivable outcome of baseball in 2011 depends on which game starts first. If C.C. Sabathia throws the season’s first pitch in the Bronx, then I believe form will hold, a highly predictable summer will approach, and baseball will spin at the appointed rate on its presumed axis. If, however, the first pitch is thrown in our nation’s capital by Livan Hernandez, then look for a seam-head planet turned upside down, the Pirates leading the National League Central into September, the Kansas City Royals winning the World Series, umpires enforcing the pine-tar rule, just all kinds of old testament stuff, including outfielders actually hitting the cut-off man.

Don’t tell me this doesn’t make any sense; I know that.

Sure, Collier is attempting humor here and trying to make fun of the ridiculous nature of picking a World Series champion before the season begins.

But the facts remain: Livan Hernandez did throw the first pitch of the baseball season… so we’ll see what happens from here.

Speaking of Hernandez, the Nationals’ reliable righty put on a performance the Nationals have become accustomed to, giving up two runs or less (which he did in 20 of 33 starts last year), and his teammates responded in a way Hernandez has become accustomed to, by not producing enough offense to take him off the hook for a loss or a no-decision (which happened 11 of those 20 times last year).

I haven’t spent as much time watching Hernandez in person as a lot of people but one thing that has struck me most about him is what he calls his “gameplan.” Hernandez was asked about his curveballs on Thursday, because he unleashed some nasty ones to strike out Nate McLouth in the third and Dan Uggla and Jayson Heyward in the fourth, and I wondered if the cold weather had kept him from throwing it more earlier in the game.

“I don’t need to throw the curveball early,” Henandez said. “I’ve got a gameplan and this is what I do. There was only one mistake and it was a slider hanging (to Heyward in the second) and he hit it out… I know what I’ve got to do with the curveball and when I need to throw it.”

Hernandez is so precise — and knows so specifically when to unleash his curve — that he wanted Uggla to foul off the curve he offered up in the fourth. The strikeout surprised him somewhat. As for the slider to Heyward? The right fielder was supposed to foul that one off too, but it wasn’t low and inside as Hernandez wanted.

Either way, with a little run support, Hernandez will spend less time talking about his mistakes and more time talking about wins if he pitches the way he did yesterday.

— That was the attitude most of the Nationals had yesterday, staying upbeat despite the loss. And Dan Daly checks in with a column about how Thursday’s performance was probably a preview of things to come this season for the Nationals.