The Washington Times - January 31, 2012, 08:05PM

Livan Hernandez, the durable right-hander who will always have the distinction of throwing the first pitch in Washington Nationals history, agreed to a minor league deal with the Houston Astros on Tuesday, officially ending his second stint with the Nationals.

The deal was first reported by FOXsports.com.

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Hernandez, the lovable soft-tosser, spent his (seemingly) final season with the Nationals in a state of transition. He began as the team’s opening day starter but became embroiled in a federal money laundering investigation involving a convicted drug kingpin in Puerto Rico in late April. While the case has progressed Hernandez has not been charged to this point.

Despite those issues, Hernandez, 36, maintained a jovial presence in the clubhouse and embraced his role as a mentor to the Nationals’ young pitching staff and players. He was 8-13 with a 4.47 ERA in 175 1/3 innings, a body of work that included the 50,000th pitch of his lengthy career and one impressive night in which he waited out a two-plus-hour rain delay against the Phillies and estimated that he threw at least 300 pitches, until the Nationals shut him down in the season’s final month in order to plug some of their young pitchers into the rotation. 

Hernandez talked at length on several occasions in 2011 about his desire to remain with the Nationals — even volunteering to accept a long relief role if that’s what it took — as a player and also in the future as an executive, but the Nationals seem to have closed the door on bringing back Hernandez as a member of the pitching staff early on in the offseason. Earlier this month, team sources indicated just that, noting that the franchise had somewhat “moved on” from players like Hernandez as they made their ascent into what they hope is a young, contending team.

“I want to pitch,” Hernandez said in August. “But I want to work, maybe, in this organization maybe as an assistant GM or whatever. I’ve gotten a lot of offers before I’m retired — television, Univision, it’s tough. I don’t want to make that decision yet. I can play golf (professionally) too, I don’t know. My preference would be to work for the team. I want to play four more years. I can still get people out. It’s not easy. Baseball is not easy. But I feel healthy and my arm feels 100 percent. This is what I want to do, that’s it, let’s see what happens.”

Hernandez’s deal with Houston reportedly includes an invitation to major league spring training so the Nationals — the team he has been an opening day starter for three times and is the all-time leader in wins with 44, starts with 129, strikeouts with 476, and innings pitched with 828 2/3 — will be seeing him very soon. The Nationals and Astros play each other four times during spring training, including in the first two games of the exhibition season on March 2nd and 3rd.