The Washington Times - September 3, 2011, 12:58AM

Nationals manager Davey Johnson confirmed after his team’s 7-3 loss to the New York Mets Friday night that Livan Hernandez will indeed start Sunday afternoon against the Mets but it will be his final start for the Nationals for the foreseeable future. With an eye toward 2012, the team will shut Hernandez down and clear the way for other pitchers in their starting rotation over the season’s final month.

Hernandez is expected to transition into a mentor’s role on the pitching staff while the Nationals infuse the rotation with young talent like Saturday’s starter Tom Milone, Stephen Strasburg, Brad Peacock and a handful of others. Hernandez, who expressed his desire to remain with the Nationals next year and is willing to pitch out of the bullpen as a long reliever to do so, is a proven commodity. He’s thrown over 50,000 pitches over his career. Now it’s time for them to see some other guys throw some pitches.

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“He has nothing to prove,” Johnson said. “He’s had a good year. We need some of these guys that don’t have the innings a chance so we can give them some experience at the major league level and see where we’re at.

“If that’s all successful then shutting down Livo, shutting down (Jordan Zimmermann), giving these guys that opportunity, then we’re getting closer to where I think we can be a contender. Are there some lumps along the way when you’re doing all that? Yeah. Are there some good signs? yeah. I’m an optimist.”

Hernandez’s contract situation for 2012 is undetermined and while he’d like it to be with the Nationals, there’s no guarantees that it will be. He’ll be used to pinch hit and lay down a bunt every now and then, Johnson said, but for the man who threw the organization’s first-ever pitch seven-plus years ago, Sunday afternoon may be the final time he takes the mound in a Nationals uniform.

Still, Johnson wouldn’t fully commit to Hernandez not pitching again this year.

“I’m never going to say I’m never going to do something,” Johnson said.