The Washington Times - April 13, 2011, 11:02AM

Livan Hernandez is a fun player to watch.

Not only does he get his job done every five days, some days with more success than others, but he can seemingly throw a million pitches and not feel any ill effects. He’s got a devastating curveball that he unleashes only a handful of times per game and I’ve never seen a pitcher stick to his own gameplan as well as Hernandez does.


Listening to Hernandez discuss his outing week after week doesn’t get old either. He knows exactly which pitch he’s going to throw, when he’s going to throw it and where it’s going to end up. He even said after this first start that he picked up a strikeout on a ball he wanted Jason Heyward to foul off. When you can put the ball exactly where you want it for the hitter to foul it off, that’s precision. Of course, in that case, the pitch worked out even better for Hernandez.

But even with all of that, Hernandez did something even more entertaining in the fourth inning when he decided on his own to lay down a squeeze bunt with the bases loaded and a force out at home. It could have gone wrong — with Laynce Nix at third base potentially being thrown out at home or, even worse, the Phillies turning a double play, first getting the force at home and then getting Hernandez at first. But when Hernandez saw Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard playing back at first base, he figured now would be the perfect time to drop one down.

Hernandez got the pitch he was expecting in that situation, a cutter, and placed it down the first base line. There was no time to signal to anyone else that he was planning to do it — meaning Nix would have to be on his toes, literally and figuratively, at third base in order to score.

Joe Blanton seemed to consider going home with the ball: “I think the guy is going to throw to home plate, I said ‘Uh oh,’” Hernandez said, but Blanton rethough it — with Nix turning on the burners to get home — and settled for making the second out of the inning at first base on Hernandez.

It was a proud moment for Hernandez, who, along with the rest of the Nationals struggled a bit in 2010 with bunting.

“Last year, personally, I had a difficult time,” Hernandez said. “I missed five bunts in a row last year, that had never happened to me in my career.”

Hernandez said he apologized to Nix later for bunting — even though the Nationals got a run on it — because he forced the left fielder to really hustle to get home. Nix had no issues with his pitcher’s idea.

“I said ‘I’m sorry’ to Nix, because I did it on my own and it surprised a lot of people, but it came out perfect,” Hernandez said. “He was running hard. (When I apologized) he said ‘It’s O.K., it’s O.K., great bunt.’”

It was the Nationals 10th sacrifice in the infield this season and third successful squeeze they’ve executed already, just 10 games in to the year. Rick Ankiel was the first to accomplish the feat in the team’s first series against Atlanta, Ian Desmond laid one down while the team was in Florida and Hernandez on Tuesday night.

The Nationals were sixth in the major leagues in 2010 with 71 total sacrifice hits but Hernandez was the only pitcher in the top three in that category on the team. This year, Hernandez has three already and every starting pitcher except Tom Gorzelanny has already picked up at least one.

The Nationals’ 10 leads the major leagues in sacrifice hits so far this year.

With a lineup that, night in, night out, most likely isn’t going to blow you away with power, being able to execute in situations like Tuesday night, and get the runs home any way they can, is going to be imperative to them stacking up wins.