- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson wasted no time in naming staff ace Livan Hernandez as his Opening Day starter.

Asked yesterday if Hernandez would pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 4, Robinson replied, “If he’s healthy, yes, and he’s healthy right now, and I see no reason why he wouldn’t.”

If Robinson sticks to a five-day rotation and not a five-man rotation, Hernandez also would be in line to start the Nationals’ home opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks at RFK Stadium on April 14.

Hernandez, who led the majors with 255 innings and nine complete games last season, will make his second consecutive Opening Day start and the fifth of his career. But he was a notable no-show yesterday at Space Coast Stadium the day after pitchers and catchers were expected to report.

Hernandez, who lives in the Miami area, checked in with team officials from South Florida and was excused. It’s uncertain when the All-Star right-hander will report, but club officials are not concerned over his whereabouts. Hernandez led the Montreal Expos with 11 wins last season and in virtually every other pitching category.

“Everyone has got confidence in that guy,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “There’s no surprise that he’s going to be there. He did it for us in the past, he’s proven that he can do it and I don’t think there is anyone on this team that doesn’t want him out there on Opening Day or thinks that he doesn’t deserve to be the Opening Day guy.”

Armas confidence

Nationals pitcher Tony Armas Jr. is now sound in body and mind after pitching well this winter in his native Venezuela.

Armas, the son of former Boston Red Sox star Tony Armas, has endured a troublesome right shoulder for most of two seasons. Armas initially suffered a season-ending injury May 23, 2003, and missed the first 49 games last year because his shoulder was not 100 percent. Subsequently, Armas went 2-4 with a 4.88 ERA in 72 innings for the Expos.

“Thank God I got my confidence back from Venezuela, I got my mind cleared, I know where I’m at,” Armas said. “From here, I just want to be out there every five days and do my job and show everybody that I can still pitch.”

Armas’ best season was in 2002 with the Expos when he went 12-12 with a 4.44 ERA. In the Venezuelan Winter League, he surrendered just two earned runs in 14 innings.

“If he stays healthy, he’s the key to the rotation,” Robinson said. “Because if the other guys are healthy, they’re going to do what they are capable of doing. Armas, to me, is capable of doing some outstanding things if he is healthy.”

It wasn’t just me

To put it mildly, Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza had a rough time last year for the New York Yankees. The veteran was banished to manager Joe Torre’s bullpen after posting an 8.50 ERA in six starts and 10 games.

According to Loaiza, who allowed 61 hits in 42 innings in 2004, Yankees fans don’t discriminate on who gets a Bronx cheer. Even superstars are not immune.

“They didn’t just boo myself, they booed [Derek] Jeter and A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez] all the time, but every time they came up with a big hit, everybody loved them,” Loaiza said. “If you pay attention to that kind of stuff, it’s going to wear you down. For myself, it wasn’t bugging me at all.”

Another outfielder

Alex Escobar, the Nationals’ newly acquired outfielder, wants to show why many believe he has unlimited potential.

Escobar, obtained Sunday in a trade with the Chicago White Sox for minor league outfielder Jerry Owens, was one of eight position players who reported early. Escobar was considered one of baseball’s top prospects when he was in the New York Mets organization, but injuries have limited his progress.

“I’m very happy with the trade,” Escobar said. “It’s a better opportunity, a legit opportunity, actually. I see myself in a better position than I was in Chicago.”

If Escobar performs well this spring, there’s a chance he could make the roster as the fourth or fifth outfielder.

“Right now, it’s like a fresh start for me,” he said. “There ain’t no living in the past, I just move forward. My time will come. Hopefully, this is it. I’m mentally prepared to establish myself here and start my career like I should have four years ago.”

In 2002, Escobar blew out his left knee in spring training and missed the entire season. Last year he missed a good portion of the season with a fractured foot.

“As long as I’m healthy, I don’t have anything to prove ” my game will be there,” Escobar said.

Extra bases

The Nationals agreed to terms with pitchers John Patterson and Joe Horgan, leaving just 10 players unsigned: outfielders Terrmel Sledge and Endy Chavez, infielders Henry Mateo and Brendan Harris, and pitchers Luis Ayala, Francis Beltran, Chad Cordero, Zach Day, Jon Rauch and Claudio Vargas. …

Position players who reported early are outfielders Escobar, Ryan Church and Brad Wilkerson, first basemen Nick Johnson and Larry Broadway, second basemen Jose Vidro and Jamey Carroll and utility infielder Henry Mateo.

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